Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This was certainly the case at SPE’s ACCE conference.

The stark difference between composites and aluminum was the topic of a panel discussion including representatives from major aluminum companies, a composites company and academics among others, including a senior person for materials for a major automotive OEM. Composites was poised to win, but the speaker was prepared to fail – and did.

The stage was poorly set by a moderator who admitted that he was unprepared and fumbled the names and bios of the speakers. A noisy room with about 75 percent of the seats empty compounded the problem.

Despite these challenges, a representative from Alcoa led off with a very professional presentation on how composites and aluminum are being used together in automotive applications. The aluminum folks gave sharp answers to the questions posed to the panel, particularly about the amount of energy necessary to produce aluminum. The aluminum representative acknowledged it was much higher than steel but was able to quickly counter that over the life cycle of the vehicle, it was much lower than steel because of the weight savings. Rather than counter with statistics on the life cycle of composites, the composites speaker said it would be nice to have life-cycle data for composites. He was apparently unaware that ACMA’s Green Composites Council has already done life-cycle analysis on composites. Just one of many missed opportunities.