Over 200 composites industry professionals from around the world joined the Thermoplastic Composites Conference 2020 | A Virtual Experience
May 7, 2020 (Arlington, VA) – On April 29, the American Composites Manufacturers Association hosted its first virtual event, the inaugural Thermoplastic Composites Conference, which was initially planned to be held in San Diego, CA. 212 composites industry professionals, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, end-users, and OEM’s, as well as Universities and Federal Agencies gathered online for three days of education and networking, including twenty-four sessions highlighting the latest technology, solutions, advancements and opportunities in thermoplastic composites across a wide range of end-user markets including aerospace defense, automotive, truck and trailer, oil & gas, and recreational applications.
Day one of the event began with opening remarks from Interim ACMA President Kevin Barnett, followed by the dynamic opening keynote, Aerospace Applications for High Performance Thermoplastic Composites, presented by Boeing’s Technical Fellow, Randy Wilkerson. Detailing Boeing’s extensive history with thermoplastic composites and their advancements in this area starting in the 1980s with system brackets, Wilkerson outlined how Boeing leverages thermoplastic composites to improve automation, reduce process times from hours to minutes, and lower production cost through shorter cycle times. While the actual material costs can be on par or sometimes more expensive than other traditional materials, Wilkerson highlighted that Boeing has found that thermoplastic composites provide better cost savings with improvements of flow and rapid cycles, no shelf life, and the elimination of costly bagging processes.
The day continued with sessions and networking breaks with exhibitors. 23 exhibitors presented thermoplastic composites innovations and products, as well as material and technology solutions in a virtual exhibit hall. Attendees met with exhibitors throughout the conference to discuss challenges and explore products and solutions to expand the use of thermoplastic composites in all market segments.
The session, Transition from Thermoset to Thermoplastic Composites in Road and Rail Transportation Equipment, was presented from Belgium by Jan Verhaeghe who has over 25 years of experience with thermoset materials. He compared thermoset composites and structural thermoplastic composites in the production of road and rail transportation equipment, detailing the transition path his team used to move from thermosets to thermoplastics utilizing emerging thermoplastic technology in series production.
Day two of the event began with a panel discussion led by moderator Jonathan Sourkes of TxV Aero Composites. The panel explored opportunities for thermoplastic composites using automated fiber placement (AFP), including simulation, prototyping, and modeling of parts to predict defects and optimize design. The session, CFRTPs and Mobility: Now and in the Future, detailed Covestro’s advancements with continuous carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites (CFRTP) in automotive and micro-mobility applications. The company has leveraged the unique qualities of thermoplastic composites like stiffness, lightweighting, and sustainability, to manufacture parts for automated vehicles and micro-mobility solutions such as e-bikes and e-scooters. From CFRTP wheel blades and auto seat backs, the company uses these advanced materials and technology to produce tabletops for autonomous vehicles and parts for electric vehicle battery packs in concept cars. Covestro’s Paul Hassett shared that CFRTP helps to reduce the weight of EV batteries by up to 50%, shorten cycle times, cut production costs, and allow more economical mass production.
The session, Novel Welding Method for Thermoplastic Fuselage Structures, looked at one of the event’s common themes – joining and bonding. Spirit AeroSystems’s Mark Wadsworth provided an update on their recent investigation on the efficacy of assembling thermoplastic composite components using several joining technologies, including AFP welding, induction welding, resistance welding, autoclave fusion. Wadsworth detailed their challenges and successes with thermoplastic welding technology in the aerospace industry to produce fuselages – part of the investigation. Wadsworth previewed one of the investigation’s successes, a new welding technology called Co-fusion that was invented by Spirit AeroSystems and will soon be patented. The new technology uses a heated tool to produce a 100% weld, unlike other methods.
The third and final day of the virtual event included more sessions with new insights. Day 3 started with an exciting keynote presentation from Patrick Blanchard of Ford Motor Company. Patrick shared the materials performance requirement for the next generation of automobiles and light trucks. Based on the changes in powertrain and mobility requirements presented by Patrick, this is perhaps a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for innovative materials. Thermoplastic composites are currently used in several Ford parts – from powertrain components, engine oil pans, cross car beams, to seats – but the biggest challenge to greater adoption of thermoplastic composites is education. He stated that Ford Motor Company is looking ahead to new transportation technologies and trends, like vehicle autonomy and car sharing, that will present new opportunities for composites. Examples included new data and connectivity sensors that would be integrated into the design of a vehicle part, such as a hood using composites.
The conference concluded with a panel discussion about bonding and joining. Sebastiaan Wijskamp provided updates on TPRC’s recent research on consolidation, stamp forming, re-use and recycling of laminate materials, process performance, and joining methods including welding, hybrid joining, and mechanical fastening. From their research in welding with thermoplastic composites, induction heating showed high potential for rapid welding without a susceptor that worked with carbon fibers, fabrics and UDs. Danielle Stephens of the FAA continued the panel discussion with perspectives from the federal level and added that the FAA needs guidance for thermoplastic composites due to limited and incomplete published data. New partnerships and research programs that have emerged, including the Wichita State University’s Advanced Technology Laboratory for Aerospace Systems (ATLAS). ATLAS is directed by panelist Dr. Seneviratne of the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) and will support research and development and more process testing. Seneviratne shared details about a series of new research programs and studies, including new research on welding in partnership with AFRL and Wichita State University. Aida Rahim of Luna Innovations, completed the panel by discussing a technology that allows sensors to be embedded directly into the weld line, allowing for improved quality and efficiency.
During the closing remarks, ACMA announced that it will host a new event in April 2021 focusing on the future of manufacturing – AI, 5G, IoT, Automation, Digital Thread, and other topics related to the next generation of composites manufacturing. More information will be announced next month.
The American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) is the world’s largest composites industry trade group. We are manufacturers, material and equipment suppliers, distributors, academia and end users, dedicated to growing the composites market. We serve our members and the industry by promoting the competitive advantage and versatility of composite materials. ACMA offers composites industry educational resources through our Education Hub, CAMX, conferences, webinars, and Certified Composites Technician (CCT®) program. We develop standards and specifications that drive preference for the use of composites in place of traditional materials. We lead advocacy efforts via legislative and regulatory channels to achieve a more viable composites industry. Together, we are shaping the future of composites.