The 2012 edition of the JEC COMPOSITES Show, now known as JEC Europe, was held from March 27 through 29. Figures published by the JEC Group indicated that the event attracted more exhibitors and visitors than in previous years, testifying to the improving health of the composites industry.
If JEC 2011 was notable for its emphasis on composites in automotive applications, JEC 2012 was equally notable for its lack of a consistent theme. That’s not to suggest, however, that this annual event was not good. It was, in fact, very good — busy, active and positive. There was some discussion about demand for compressed natural gas (CNG) pressure vessels triggered by historically low natural gas prices, and some talk, as well, that centered on announcements of carbon fiber capacity expansions. A noteworthy example of the latter was and announcement by SABIC (Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) representatives that the company is moving forward with plans to manufacture precursor and carbon fiber in Saudi Arabia, with commercial availability of the fiber expected in 2015. SABIC, in June 2011, signed a technology licensing agreement with acrylic fiber manufacturer Montefibre SpA (Milan, Italy). Derek Buckmaster, general manager of carbon fiber technology and application development at SABIC, says Montefibre’s technology will be the basis for a new polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor facility to be built by SABIC in Saudi Arabia. The PAN precursor will feed a new SABIC carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia. This plant, says Buckmaster, is expected to produce 48K standard-modulus fiber, with commercial material available to the market before the end of 2015. The Saudi government has requested 3,000 metric tonnes (66.14 million lb) of capacity per annum. “We’ll start at or above that capacity,” Buckmaster contends, “with room to grow as needed.” Most of the fiber will be sold outside of Saudi Arabia.
In exhibitor stands, evidence of ongoing innovation and creativity abounded. HPC was there and returning staffers offered the following roundup of highlights. Look for a full report in the July issue.
A notable focus in many stands was high-speed manufacturing strategies, in particular for automotive applications.
Bond-Laminates’ (Brilon, Germany) Tepex thermoplastic sheet is being used in several automotive apps, including an Audi A8 front-end carrier. The company is deeply involved in partnerships to develop fast hybrid molding methods that incorporate both sheet products and injection molding to produce parts in one shot, in less than a minute.
Jacob Plastics GmbH (Wilhelmsdorf, Germany) showed videos of its hybrid molding methods for automotive parts such as seats, processes it calls SpriForm and FIT-Hybrid (the latter won a JEC Innovation award in 2011).
The innovative Fraunhofer ICT (Pfinztal, Germany) research group showed an automated thermoplastic tape placement process combined with injection molding. Many supplier companies offered materials for fast-cycle automotive manufacturing, including Momentive Specialty Chemicals Inc.’s (Columbus, Ohio) EPIKOTE epoxy, and Huntsman Advanced Material’s (The Woodlands, Texas) Araldite for high-speed RTM.
Significantly, Magna Exteriors and Interiors, an operating unit of Magna International Inc. (Aurora, Ontario, Canada) and Zoltek Cos. Inc. (St. Louis, Mo.) announced a global collaborative partnership to develop low-cost carbon fiber sheet molding compounds (SMC). The newly developed carbon fiber SMC material will use Zoltek’s Panex 35 commercial carbon fiber combined with Magna’s EpicBlendSMC SMC formulations and production expertise. The new material, named EpicBlendSMC EB CFS-Z, will be part of the Magna Exteriors and Interiors’ EpicBlendSMC product line, allowing Magna to offer an expanded range of lightweight parts and sub-systems for automotive, commercial truck and other markets. Additionally, Magna Exteriors and Interiors will be able to offer the EB CFS-Z SMC for sale directly to molders.
Umeco (Heanor, Derbyshire, U.K.), says that it is in the process of developing an automated manufacturing system for the high-volume production of automotive structures and components. The system consists of carbon fiber/epoxy prepreg formats that are first cut and kitted on a cutting table, transferred to a pre-forming tool, and then loaded into a compression molding machine for processing. The automated system can handle all types of prepreg material but is also focused on using Umeco’s Dform products. Ultimately, Umeco will develop and market a range of prepregs that will snap-cure in three to four minutes in a press-forming process — in line with automotive production requirements. (Shortly after the show, U.S.-based advanced materials giant Cytec Industries (Piedmont, S.C.) announced an agreement under shich it wil acquire Umeco. See "Cytec to acquire Umeco," under "Editor's Picks.")
Additional highlights from the show included an announcement of the rebranding of Technical Fibre Products (Kendal, U.K. and Schnectady, N.Y.), which will now be known simply as TFP. In the wake of the company’s 25-year anniversary, the new TFP aims to build on its reputation for developing and producing nonwoven veils and mats and partnering with customers to develop customized solutions to meet an array of technical challenges.
The Axson Group (Cergy, France), rebranded when it acquired two companies in late 2011, announced that André Genton, previously with Huntsman, will be chief operating officer of the company. Genton will oversee Axson’s ambitious expansion plans, which include new plants worldwide.
S-glass specialist AGY (Aiken, S.C.) revealed that it has signed a long-term agreement with CTG/Taishan Fiberglass (Shandong Province, China) to produce AGY’s trademarked S-1 HM high-performance glass rovings under license for wind turbine applications in China. The glass should be in production by the third quarter of this year, reports AGY’s Drew Walker, who is now AGY’s president, and Zhiyao Tang, Taishan Fiberglass’ chairman and president.
“Green” technologies, including natural fiber materials at many stands, and greater environmental responsibility were also at the forefront. DSM Composite Resins (Schaffhausen, Switzerland and Zwolle, The Netherlands), for example, held a joint press conference with partner AkzoNobel (Amersfoort, The Netherlands) to unveil the new BluCure umbrella brand denoting cobalt-free resin curing technology, including pre-accelerated resins and cobalt-free accelerators. DSM is producing new resins with the cobalt-free technology and a new “BluCure” seal will distinguish products made by fabricators with the new materials.
Owens Corning Composite Materials (Toledo, Ohio), which counts environmental sustainability as a core value, described new plants coming on line in Russia and Mexico, as well as new sustainable products, including a formaldehyde-free binder for glass mats used in carpet, energy-saving production improvements, and a new food-grade reinforcement for use in consumer products — a first for the industry.