April 10, 2014 (Arlington, Va.) – More than sixty senior level executives met last week in the nation’s capital for the inaugural Composites Executive Forum, produced by the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA). Participants joined fellow executives and market development leaders for two days of roundtable dialogue and shared thought leadership on trends and the toughest challenges composites business owners face today.
The forum, held from April 1-3, brought industry leaders face-to-face with asset owners and market segment representatives who have significant structural material needs and challenges. “As an industry, we know that composites can be the solution in many cases, but our potential customers may not,” said Jay Merrell, ACMA board chair and vice president, Norplex-Micarta. “This forum fostered a dialogue between suppliers and customers that facilitates education on both sides of the fence. This is the path forward that pushes composites to reach their true market potential and helps contribute to job growth in our industry.”
Senior level executives also had the chance to see what innovations, opportunities, design advancements and challenges exist within markets that their companies aim to serve. “The breadth of talent that came together was amazing,” said Scott Balogh, president and CEO of Mar-Bal in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “As fabricators we like to solve problems and there were a lot of people from different industries here – whether automotive, energy or infrastructure – who identified areas of opportunity for us.”
During the two-day conference, executives participated in more than twenty educational segments in five key areas:
- The Keynote Presentation was delivered by Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and focused on the country’s chemicals program, accessibility and usability of chemical data and the EPA’s goal to promote safer and green chemicals.
- The Business Intelligence sessions featured two of the nation’s leading economists as well as a market research thought leader who detailed strategic growth opportunities, the state of the economic landscape for manufacturers and how energy usage and policy will affect the manufacturing sector tomorrow.
- The Sustainability sessions provided a focus on creating competitive advantage, greening operations, greening products and accelerating energy efficiency. Participants heard from both industry and the Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Manufacturing as they detailed how senior executives should think about lifecycle assessments, recycling to benefit business, and where composites belonged in the sustainability conversation with customers and within their business.
- The Federal Programs portion of the program explored government-driven trends that are driving structural materials choices for automotive, military facilities, energy infrastructure and naval applications.
- The End-User and Specifier Trends presentations gave participants the chance to think outside of the box about market applications and industries where composites can serve structural materials needs. For example, one speaker highlighted how composites can be the leading material of the housing market, while challenging social and environmental issues on a global scale.
- The OEM presenters offered insights into hot markets that are leading composites growth. Although each company had its own top priorities, from automation to safety and weight savings to materials performance, the theme that rang loud and clear across was materials cost.
- Wind turbines: GE Power and Water detailed the desire to make longer blades while decreasing the cost and difficulty of transportation. For GE, top priorities include a desire for materials that process faster, mold utilization improvements and the ability to introduce automation that replaces the labor intensive efforts of wind blade production.
- Aerospace: Boeing Research and Technology noted that there is tremendous potential for materials innovation and that the composites industry must demonstrate performance feasibility to create the necessary pull. While safety and environmental issues are critical, it is essential to understand the core qualifications of constituent materials and the processes that will produce predictable and repeatable quality. Looking towards the future of materials in aerospace, affordability across the life-cycle, sustainable platforms and engineered materials for system level performance all play into the materials that will earn their way onto an airplane.
- Automotive: The vehicle of the future will be of mixed materials. OEMs are looking for ideas but they don’t have enough engineers to research all of the available options. The big question is how to lightweight vehicles, thereby improving fuel consumption and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
- Two of Washington’s political insiders rounded out the forum program. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shared breakfast with participants while addressing the importance of advanced manufacturing and the strength of the American workforce. Ed Gillespie, 2014 Virginia senate candidate and former counselor to President George W. Bush, attended a dinner with attendees and shared his humble beginnings as a Capitol Hill parking lot attendant, his predictions for upcoming elections and his intimate knowledge of Washington, DC.
“ACMA is excited to offer events like the Composites Executive Forum, which reflect our organization’s dedication to targeted education programs and expanded outreach to various markets to grow the composites marketplace,” said Tom Dobbins, ACMA president. “While we were pleased to bring this executive focus to our industry leaders, we are even more excited to offer CAMX, our new joint exhibition and convention with SAMPE, as the premiere composites and advanced materials exhibition and conference in the world. CAMX is yet another example of that continued dedication to education and market growth.”
The next Composites Executive Forum will be held in April 2016.