After 13 years at the helm of ACMA, Tom Dobbins will leave his role as president on March 14 and join the Aluminum Association as president and CEO. ACMA has appointed a search committee to recruit a replacement who is aligned with the culture, mission, and values of the association. Dobbins sat down with Susan Keen Flynn, managing editor of Composites Manufacturing magazine, to share memories of his time at ACMA, as well as a glimpse into the future of the composites industry.
Q: What major changes have you seen in the composites industry during your 13 years at the helm of ACMA?
Dobbins: We were very fragmented when I started at ACMA, and now everyone sees it as ‘the composites industry.’ Companies that focus on high-performance materials are working more closely with traditional polyester resin/glass fiber suppliers.
There’s a more unified, concerted effort to open markets. A key component of that mind shift was the launching of IACMI – The Composites Institute. People now realize that when we come together around research and development to drive technology, we can really move markets.
Q: Where do you see the industry headed in the next five to 10 years?
Dobbins: There are certain markets that just make sense for composites, such as rebar. It should all be composite. That’s a common sense market. The exciting part of the future of composites are the areas where new things can only happen with composite materials. For instance, people are looking at the urban air mobility movement and saying, ‘We can create a whole new type of transportation system for people and packages because we now have composite materials that are so light, strong and durable.’
As we get caught up in some of those markets where we already should be, the challenge – and the fun part – is going to be driving innovation. It’s about getting people to think of new products and services because they now have a material that makes possible what is impossible with traditional materials.
Dobbins: ACMA has undergone a tremendous transformation during my time here, but I want to make clear it’s not because of Tom Dobbins specifically. It’s because of strong leadership from our board of directors, the volunteers who serve on our committees and our staff. Because of that teamwork, over my tenure we have seen a host of innovations. One major one is CAMX. Our partnership with SAMPE, and the strong dynamic between the two organizations, has created this tremendous trade show that continues to grow. Another innovation is the Composites Technology Day programs in automotive and aerospace.
Aside from events, ACMA has done seminal work on codes and standards. More than two dozen standards have been launched, not all during my time. The recently completed Load Resistance Factor Design Standard for Pultruded Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composite Structures was a million-dollar-plus standards project. We’ve also launched a statistics program, achieved numerous legislative successes through our government affairs program and much more.
All of these successes are indicative of one truism: The brand of ACMA has grown tremendously over the past few years. Companies look to us as thought leaders – to understand where markets are going, where opportunities are and what best practices are out there.
Q: As the search committee recruits for your successor, what message do you have for ACMA members?