Industry Leaders Discuss the Future of Composites
Washington, D.C., is known as a city of movers and shakers. Its reputation did not disappoint more than 60 attendees at ACMA’s first Composites Executive Forum, held April 1-3 in the nation’s capital. “The breadth of talent that came together was amazing,” said Scott Balogh, president and CEO of Mar-Bal in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “As fabricators we like to solve problems and there were a lot of people from different industries here – whether automotive, energy or infrastructure – who identified areas of opportunity for us.”
The Composites Executive Forum was a veritable “who’s who” of industry leaders, analysts, OEMs and end users. Dr. Sanjay Mazumdar kick started the event, providing a positive outlook on the composites industry. The CEO of Lucintel, a global research and management consulting firm, forecasts the materials market will grow 5.2 percent this year to reach $25.5 billion, while the end product market will hit $72 billion.
A panel discussion of end users echoed Mazumdar’s optimism. Jay Baron, president of the not-for-profit Center for Automotive Research shared insight on the auto market. “I have never seen the doors as open as they are now to industries such as yours,” he said. “Automakers are looking for ideas, and they don’t have enough engineers to research all the options.” The big question is how to lightweight vehicles, thereby improving fuel consumption and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The wind energy market also is looking to composites companies for solutions, said Stephen B. Johnson with GE Power & Water. Approximately 750,000 tons of composite wind blades are produced annually. But, as blades get longer, challenges arise. The cost of carbon fiber remains high. In addition, manufacturers are seeking ways to automate the labor-intensive blade-making process.
Politicians also made an appearance at the Composites Executive Forum. Ed Gillespie, the 2014 Virginia senate candidate and former counselor to President George W. Bush, shared thoughts at a dinner on the mid-term elections and his hopes for the nation. “We can still be a country where the next generation does better than the one before,” said Gillespie.
At breakfast the following morning, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) talked about the importance of advanced manufacturing and a strong workforce. “If you’ve been unemployed for more than a year, chances are you need a new work skill,” he said. “I want to tie job training to unemployment benefits to get people back into the workforce.”
Before heading to Capitol Hill to visit congressional representatives, attendees looked ahead to the next Composites Executive Forum, which will be held in Washington, D.C., in April 2016. “I will bring more employees to the next one,” said Tom Hedger, president of Magnum Venus Plastech, Knoxville, Tenn., and chairman of ACMA’s Political Action Committee. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to get a 30,000-foot view of the industry and how our customers’ markets operate.”