How does Southern Maine Community College fit into the composites industry?

The composites industry in Maine originated within the boatbuilding community. Maine has long been known for its high-end custom yachts and seaworthy working lobster boats, but it needed help in skill development of new composites technologies such as closed molding.

We developed the Certified Composites Technician Vacuum Infusion Process (CCT-VIP) program in partnership with Andre Cocquyt, president of ACSM, and ACMA because we felt it was a logical step for the college to get involved in workforce training—especially for this fast growing industry sector. With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2007, the program was completed in December 2010. The Maine Advanced Technology Center (MATC), which is on the Brunswick Composites campus, has trained over 1,300 workers since the start of the program and is adding a composites science degree to the program in 2012. We also now offer both credit and non-credit workforce training programs.

What do you see driving the industry right now?

I see an industry driven with the ideal of saving American manufacturing jobs; and we do that by learning how to work cleaner and smarter. There is no way to stay competitive against countries with lower wages and less stringent environmental controls, so the main drivers for the composites industry in the U.S. are innovation and automation. An increase in these two drivers in turn supports better paying jobs and delivers higher quality goods in which the labor components are no longer the dominating factor. However, this requires higher levels of education and workforce training directly linked to industry needs.

What materials or processes are becoming standard in composites?

Styrene is a bad word these days, but it is clear that there is no handy and/or economical alternative for composite manufactures. So, it makes sense to control styrene emissions and worker exposure by driving technological innovations such as vacuum infusion. At the same time, the composites industry is looking into solutions for alternative chemistry. Here at SMCC, we are lucky to have some of the best industry experts involved with the college’s composites programs. Maine has taken on a leadership role in composites development over the past five years and SMCC is supporting that by offering education and training in advanced composites technology and manufacturing techniques focused on closed mold technology, chemistry and process improvements, and automation.

What would help the composites industry expand?