The CAMX exhibit hall was buzzing on Tuesday when ACMA presented its annual Awards for Composites Excellence (ACE), sponsored by Composites One. ACE recognizes companies that stand at the forefront of innovation in composites technology, manufacturing and product development.

In the design category, the Most Creative Application Award is given to the composites product that showcases composites use in a unique, new application. This year’s award was presented to Strongwell for using pultruded FRP bars to replace aluminum bars originally specified for Mercedes-Benz’s “The Silver Flow” trade show display in Europe. According to Barry Myers, marketing manager for Strongwell, using aluminum made The Silver Flow extremely heavy, expensive and complicated. When The Silver Flow concept was brought to the United States, it switched over to a composite structure.

In the manufacturing category, the Equipment and Tooling Innovation Award is given to the equipment, tooling, production aid or software that is designed to improve manufacturing production, environmental sustainability or product quality and performance in composites manufacturing. This year, the award went to Composites Alliance Corp. (CAC) for its innovative robotic preform cell providing 3-D stacking and control. As CAC explains in its flyer, the technology folds plies into 3-D shapes and controls each ply’s positioning and fiber orientation. Compared to manual cutting, the technology can “improve the quality, repeatability, and accuracy” of a part while reducing its final cost.

The manufacturing category also features the Materials and Process Innovation Award, which recognizes a material or process that best contributes to efficient manufacturing and product sustainability. This year, the award went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for its 3-D printing of high temperature thermoplastic molds. As Composites Manufacturing reported in May, these were the first 100 percent digitally manufactured tools in an industrial autoclave setting. Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Vlastimil Kunic, group leader for polymer materials development at ORNL’s manufacturing demonstration facility, described the achievement as a “total team effort” between Boeing, Cincinnati Incorporated, BASF, Ford, TechmerPM, NAVAIR and Tru Design. Kunic says the next step is to scale up the technology.

In the market growth category, the Infinite Possibility Award is given to the composites product that demonstrates the potential to significantly increase the use of composites in existing markets or generate the greatest impact to open new and emerging markets for composites. This year, the award went to Ashland Performance Materials for its sheet molding composite in the truck bed of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. According to Laura Gigas, Ashland senior product manager, transportation, it is the first time the exterior of a vehicle has a weatherable product. She notes that Ashland’s SMC is much less likely to corrode than a steel alternative. “In the past, [exterior parts] had to be painted,” Gigas explains. “This was first time we’ve been able to produce parts that are not in need of paint and they won’t lose their gloss.”