It’s a problem getting accurate numbers because people aren’t reporting like they used to. The American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) is getting resin statistics, which are the best numbers we have available now. It shows that things were way down with a couple bright spots here and there. The problem, though, is that the numbers don’t tell you where the industry is going.
What are reasons that the industry is thriving or failing?
I wouldn’t categorize it as doing either. It’s not thriving in any sense—nor is any manufacturing business at this time. However, I don’t think it’s failing because companies that have made it through the recession have a substantial financial basis to thrive. The companies that fail no longer exist and those that do exist have adapted to the new economy and are positioning themselves so they’re healthy when it does come back. Are they doing the same business as in 2007? Absolutely not. Everyone has downsized, but they are still around doing business. The measure of success at this moment is if you’re positioned to emerge out of the recession lean and ready to grow.
What are the key issues that keep the industry from growing?
If you assume the economy goes to some semblance of past, then the biggest challenge is regulatory. It’s squeezing the industry and will continue to do so as long as we use styrene. Global competition is also big. By 2012, China will produce more composites than the U.S. Currently, most Chinese manufacturing goes into high-tech sporting goods or are used internally within China. However, they are poised to export a larger array of goods within the next few years. The third challenge the industry faces is a smaller work force. The baby boomers are cycling out of the work force and there aren’t enough Generation X and Generation Y to take their places. It will be increasingly difficult to man a manufacturing position, especially in the next 15-20 years.
What would help manufacturers break into new markets?
There are no brand new, innovative markets springing up, but there are existing markets that are growing, such as infrastructure. Civil engineers and specifiers need to understand and use composites. However, the current engineers and specifiers don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with them. They admit the testing and research has been done, but a large part of them just aren’t comfortable with composites. The studies have been done, the concepts proven. The only missing element to applying composites in infrastructure is simply a comfort level and knowledge.