Robert R. Lacovara, CCM, CCT-I, has been in the composites industry for more than 30 years, and he thinks composites manufacturing is at a crossroads. Traditional methods and thinking may facilitate the status quo, he says, but “real transformation is necessary to meet the challenges of our time.” Lacovara is president of Convergent Composites, a consultancy that provides the composites industry with services and insight. From 1989-2009, he was director of Technical Services for ACMA, the originator of the association’s Certified Composites Technician (CCT) program, and former ACMA president.
At COMPOSITES 2012 your education session focus is The Intersection of Technology and the Composites Business. How are those forces coming together today?
I believe emerging technologies will drive the composites business into the future. Today, there are some interesting opportunities for the composites industry, so it’s valuable to examine the fundamental principles of science that will drive new business opportunities for composites firms. For example, one topic I’ll cover in the session at COMPOSITES 2012 deals with transportation systems and that industry’s need for lower vehicle weight and better aerodynamics.
Let’s start with the basic physics that it takes less energy to move a smaller mass. Lighter cars are simply more efficient. And in highway driving, vehicle efficiency is dominated by aerodynamics rather than weight — better aerodynamics equal higher efficiency. We should be using that science to challenge the status quo of Detroit automakers, and specifically the trucking industry, about how they’re making vehicles. If we can change that paradigm, we can create a huge opportunity for companies in our industry. We can lead a change that potentially can drive composites for the next several decades.
What is your main focus when you talk about this “paradigm shift”?
The transportation market is the leading market, especially trucks. As world economies face inevitable competition for petroleum supplies, we are on the cusp of development for new categories of energy-efficient vehicles. But the intersection of technology and the composites business is evident in other markets, too. The emerging requirements for larger wind turbines, seismic protection, ballistic protection and infrastructure applications also lead the way for expanding the composites market.
In the truck market, how can the composites industry reach decision-makers in a way that might lead to action?
As an industry, there are several things we need to do. We need to let the transportation systems leaders understand more about our capabilities. There’s an important education and public relations component at play here. Also, the composites industry has to develop better capabilities. We have the material systems to achieve impressive objectives, but the composites industry needs to put manufacturing systems in place to realize these benefits.