At COMPOSITES 2010, held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, February 9-11, focused attendees sought specific solutions. They didn’t come to Las Vegas to simply “kick tires.” They came to find answers—ideas and solutions they can apply once they returned to their facilities.

Attendees found those answers in droves, as COMPOSITES provided a spark of revitalization to an industry that has taken its licks from the struggling economy. Aisles were packed soon after the show opened—registration soared above last year’s total—and many vendors said they were pleased at the number of decision-makers who discussed specific applications and new markets.

Business Strategies

Why Composites? Industry Can Bond for Compelling Answers

Most composites manufacturers, suppliers and distributors can rattle off the advantages of the material—it’s stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, more corrosion-resistant than both and so on. But John Busel believes the industry still struggles to define itself and answer a simple question posed by engineers and others in the marketplace: “Why composites?”

Busel, director of the Composites Growth Initiative of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), stressed in his session that the composites industry has plenty to promote. “Our materials protect troops, make bridges resistant, reduce pollution from coal-burning plants, makes homes beautiful and affordable and convert wind into electricity to power millions of homes,” he said. “The question is, how can we explain our value more effectively?”

Part of the industry’s challenge was exemplified by a show of hands. Only a few of the approximately 60 composites professionals in the room said they have been in the industry for more than 15 years (the vast majority had less than five years’ experience). And, of course, the composites industry itself is relatively new compared to traditional industries such as steel, aluminum and plastics.

Busel’s point: Collecting momentum in the composites industry (and getting customers to adopt composites instead of traditional materials) requires first connecting with itself. As companies develop key talking points about the benefits of composites, he said, they should consider simple questions such as, “Who’s the competition?” and “What is the real problem you’re trying to solve?”

Busel also said composites professionals should better prepare answers that challenge the perceived limitations of composites. “For example, when prospective customers talk about high materials costs, we should bring up lower installed costs. When they bring up lower stiffness, we need to explain how it’s less expensive compared to other fibers.” He also told attendees the industry needs to reconsider codes, standards and specifications, and to consider new designs that don’t simply imitate the form and function of conventional products such as the steel I-beam.