When the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) gathers Sept. 11-13 for its 12th annual Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) at the Michigan State University (MSU) Management Education Center (MEC) in suburban Detroit (Troy, Mich.), the 2012 theme will be “Unleashing the Power of Design,” and organizers say they intend to unleash some interesting changes in the ACCE format.
Year of changes
The MEC’s excellent presentation rooms and equipment have served the needs of presenters well, but exhibitors have perennially requested more exhibit space than was available. ACCE organizers considered changing venues this year but, reluctant to move to a larger venue and lose the small, networking-friendly feel valued by attendees, they opted to stay put for 2012. The MEC facility managers offered a solution that doubles the exhibit space by moving lunch, previously accommodated in four rooms on the building’s west side, to outdoor tents on the Center’s north patio. Time will tell whether this option works, but the extra exhibit space will be welcome. Reportedly, the event is already at record sponsorship, and the extra exhibit space is expected to sell out before summer’s end.
New this year will be a parts competition — an outgrowth of the event’s display area for large parts. A group of committee members and invited judges will review entries submitted by automakers, and sponsors/exhibitors will select the most innovative part for recognition during the closing ceremonies. “Our large-parts display area has grown significantly over the past few years,” notes 2011/2012 conference chair Creig Bowland, a senior research associate at PPG Industries (Pittsburgh, Pa.). “So this year it seemed sensible to ... provide recognition for the innovation we were seeing. What better way can we show automakers just what composites can do?”
Last year the conference provided attendees with free transportation to an optional post-event plant tour at Romeo RIM’s (Romeo, Mich.) facility, where the world’s largest long-fiber injection (LFI) press, built by KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH (Munich, Germany), is in place. Nearly 25 ACCE attendees made the 30-minute trip and watched the shuttle press turn out Class A reaction-injection molded glass/urethane roofs for John Deere vehicles, complete with a green paint finish. The success of that tour spurred organizers to offer two tours this year. After the conference ends on Sept. 13, a van will be available to take preregistered attendees to Plasan Carbon Composites’ (Bennington, Vt.) new Wixom, Mich., center to watch as carbon fiber-reinforced composite parts are molded, using Plasan’s newly developed out-of-autoclave process, which is based on a “pressure press” built by development partner Globe Machine Manufacturing Co. (Tacoma, Wash.). A reception will follow and attendees will be returned to the conference center afterward.
A second, day-long tour is set for Sept. 14, in London, Ontario, Canada, home of the new Fraunhofer Project Centre for Composites Research (FPC@Western). A joint program of Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (Pfinztal, Germany) and Western University (formerly The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario), FPC@Western is intended as an independent research platform for North American industry, charged with evaluating the potential of lightweight fiber-reinforced composites. The three-hour trip (one way) will involve an international border crossing and includes lunch. Participants will be rewarded by the sight of the world’s second (and North America’s only) direct sheet molding compound (D-SMC) inline compounding unit and a direct long-fiber thermoplastic (D-LFT) compounding line — both of which feed a 2,500-ton compression press — all supplied by Dieffenbacher GmbH (Eppingen, Germany). The center’s high-pressure resin transfer molding (RTM) press also might be in place by then. Guests will be returned to the conference center early that evening.
Expanded technical program
A record number of paper offers has organizers expecting a record crowd and has prompted the addition of the following new sessions: Preforming; Opportunities and Challenges with Carbon Composites; Advances in Reinforcement Technologies; Technology Readiness: European Composites Innovations; and Business Trends and Technology Solutions. These will join traditional sessions on Advances in Thermoset and Thermoplastic Composites; Enabling Technologies; Virtual Prototyping & Testing of Composites; Bio- & Natural Fiber Composites; and Nanocomposites.
Ever-lively are the event’s panel discussions (in part, because audience participation is encouraged). Two this year will deal with interrelated topics: "Design and Assembly of the Multi-Material Car" near the end of the first day, followed by an after-hours networking reception sponsored by Momentive (Columbus, Ohio) and "Predictive Analysis of Multi-Composite Material Automotive Structures," in the same time slot on day two.
At CT press time, ACCE organizers indicated that they had invited but had not yet confirmed keynote speakers from Motive Industries Inc. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), BMW AG (Munich, Germany), Plasan Carbon Composites, the U.S. Department of Energy (Washington, D.C.), Edison2 (Lynchburg, Va.), and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland).
“With the global automotive industry growing again after several difficult years, and with a host of tough new emissions and fuel-economy standards looming for the industry to meet,” Bowland points out, “interest in lightweight materials like polymer composites is at an all-time high. The best way to keep on top of the very latest technology innovations in this field is to attend the annual SPE ACCE show.” For more info or to register, visit http://speautomotive.com/comp.