With high-performance composites markets like aerospace and defense primed for major growth over the next few years, the need for skilled composite technicians in those markets will undoubtedly increase. To help manufacturers prepare for this trend, earlier this year ACMA expanded its Certified Composites Technician (CCT) program to include a new course that allows professionals to become certified in “Advanced Composites.” Because the learning curve for advanced manufacturing processes, such as vacuum bagging and autoclave, is steeper than it is for traditional FRP processes, for the first time in the nearly 20-year history of CCT, ACMA is requiring enrollees in the program to gain prerequisite knowledge prior to certification in the new program.
That’s no surprise to Lou Dorworth, direct services manager at Abaris Training Resources Inc., which became an ACMA Affinity Program partner a few years ago to bridge the training gap between GFRP- and CFRP-intensive processes. Dorworth, an industry veteran since 1978, says with the aerospace industry transitioning to more thermoplastic composites, the skill sets employers need are becoming increasingly complex.
“What I’m seeing now is a real interest in being able to manufacture more quickly and with techniques that are more aligned with fabrication rather than with deep processing, which thermosets require,” says Dorworth. “But I think we’re going to see more and more demand for training [in thermoplastics] starting with … basic classes like we did with thermosets back in the ‘80s and ramping up to full-scale fabrication training events.”
But for that to happen, companies like Abaris need to be fully equipped with the resources to train high-performance composite technicians properly. That’s why the company decided this summer to move its east coast operations from its facility at Atlanta Aerospace Composites to the Composite Prototyping Center (CPC) in Plainview, N.Y. The CPC, Dorworth says, gives Abaris access to advanced technology it did not have available for trainees in Georgia, such as automated fiber placement robots for thermoset and thermoplastic designs, large autoclaves, RTM and VARTM systems, and CNC routers with five-axis alignment verification systems for cutting, milling and machining. In return, Abaris brings expertise in prepreg manufacturing, wet layup, tooling, adhesive bonding and composite repair to CPC.
Abaris and CPC believe the Long Island region’s workforce development efforts will benefit from Abaris’ presence at CPC, as the area’s manufacturers will gain easy access to more advanced materials training programs, which will enable them to build a more proficient, skilled workforce able to work with composite materials. They believe that, in turn, will help position those manufacturers for greater subcontractor opportunities awarded by larger manufacturers.