Two of the most widely discussed issues in the composites industry are how to make materials more recyclable and how to attract and train a more qualified workforce. During ACMA’s Composites Executive Forum, leaders from all over the industry were able to hear about the industry’s progress in recycling and workforce development, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.
For recycling, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out the business case.
“How are we going to make it profitable to recycle glass fiber? How can we make it? If you are talking about electronics, you have to harvest the right materials,” said Soydan Ozcan, PhD., Scientist, Composites and Additive Manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “It’s not only just recovering one glass and using some of it. I think the technology needs to be specific to the business practice.”
David L. Wagger, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and Director of Environmental Management at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), agrees that recycling should be driven by market forces.
“That sounds really simple, but actually it’s really hard to practice,” said Wagger. “The thing that this presupposes is there is material available that has value, there is a way to move it and process it into another valuable material that has an end use market. That’s the challenge. To have all of those things line up for the variety of materials that may have a second or a third useful life and so on.”
Ed Pilpel, President of PolyStrand and Chairman of ACMA’s Green Composites Council said that while difficult, there is something everyone in the industry could do.
“Everyone in this room that produces could avoid that landfill cost as a start,” said Pilpel. “What we learned from ISRI is once you have that baseline of energy conversion, that it helps you get started, be in the business, get some value back. Now you can get a few more dollars out of it.”
In workforce development, the challenges are even greater. Josh Cramer, Senior Educational Programs Officer at SME, said that while visiting Pittsburgh, he learned that even if 100 percent of the city’s high school graduates entered the workforce, manufacturers are still short 20,000 employees.
“It’s not even one of those things where if you build it, they will come,” Cramer said. “It’s just ‘we need them there.’”
Many in the industry believe that is due to manufacturing’s image problem. Brent Weil, Senior Vice President of the National Association of Manufacturers, explained that while many Americans believe in the value of manufacturing to the country, many parents do not want their kids pursuing careers in it. Weil added that the two biggest factors driving career choices for young professionals are personal experiences and parental influence.