As the global composites industry flocked to Paris once again in early April to attend the JEC COMPOSITES Show, the mood on the exhibition floor was more than “upbeat.” Visitors and exhibitors were confident and looking forward to future growth. That confidence was reflected in the show’s attendance: Show organizers reported that 1,053 exhibitors had displays in the 43,500m2 (468,230 ft2) Paris Expo hall and that a total of 27,000 industry professionals were on hand for all or part of the three-day event.
There was plenty of substance behind the confidence: The JEC Group released market research figures that show a strong surge in the use of carbon fiber and both thermoplastic and thermoset resins to this point in the decade, driven by aerospace and mass-market usage, the latter notably in sports applications. Reportedly, demand for thermoplastics has grown 8 percent per year while thermoset demand has increased at an annual rate of 5 percent. As a result, thermoplastics now hold a 35 percent share of the overall composite resins market, while thermosets have declined to a 65 percent share from 75 percent.
In general, JEC statistics show the industry has grown in volume by 4.1 percent since 1999 — with 6.5 percent annual growth from 2001 to 2005. Growth was driven primarily by wind energy, electrical/electronics and construction. Although marine composite gains came slower in Europe and North America, marine applications experienced strong growth in Asia, 14 percent from 1999 to 2005.
Coming into 2008, composites manufacturers and their suppliers are no longer hoping for orders, they’re spending — on new facilities, expanded capacity, mergers and acquisitions and new product development — to meet delivery schedules.
Such announcements were rife among fiber suppliers. On the carbon side, Toho Tenax (Tokyo, Japan) reported that its new production line in Meshima, near Tokyo, began commercial production this month. The company claims it’s the largest running line in the world, capable of producing more than 5.95 million lb (2,700 metric tonnes) per year of primarily 24K fiber. Formosa Plastics Corp. (Taipei, Taiwan) had a large stand and showcased its ongoing expansion program, intended to significantly increase fiber production over the next three to four years. At its stand, Paris-based Soficar SA showed its line of CarboStamp carbon/thermoplastic prepreg sheets, introduced last year, in addition to its offering of Torayca carbon fibers.
Established carbon fiber suppliers were joined on the show floor this year by new producers that touted up-and-coming manufacturing capacity. Turkish acrylic producer AKSA (Akrilic Kimya Sanayii AS, Istanbul, Turkey) described its carbon fiber pilot line, which is designed for annual production of almost 75,000 lb (34 metric tonnes) of fiber. The pilot plant will begin operation this year, and the company expects that a full-scale production line will come on stream in 2009. Another newcomer on the world stage, Dalian Xingke Carbon Fiber Co. (Dalian City, China) was the first Chinese enterprise to successfully commercialize carbon fiber. The company announced that it has boosted fiber production from its startup capacity of about 794,000 lb (360 metric tonnes) per year in 2003 to between 1.32 million lb and 1.76 million lb (600 and 800 metric tonnes) today.
Announcements from glass fiber suppliers included AGY’s (Aiken, S.C.) introduction of two new product lineups, based around its trademarked S-2 Glass line. S-1 Glass is the company’s new “industrial-grade” product. Said to have strength and other properties between that of conventional E-glass and AGY’s S-2 product, the new fiber is targeted to automotive and other high-volume applications. In performance and price, S-2 Glass now falls between S-1 and the other new line, S-3 Glass, or “special grade,” said to exhibit at least 20 percent higher modulus than the S-2. Intended for niche applications, the fiber reportedly can be custom engineered and manufactured in relatively low volumes.
JEC marked the first show appearance for OCV Reinforcements (Toledo, Ohio), the company created when Owens Corning’s Reinforcements business unit purchased Saint-Gobain’s (Paris, France) Vetrotex Reinforcements business in 2007. At the show, OCV president Chuck Dana, and Arnaud Genis, formerly with Vetrotex and now OCV’s VP and managing director, EU & Global Fabrics, were enthusiastic about the new venture and pointed to several benefits already realized since the former competitors pooled resources, including an immediate cost savings of $100 million, a larger suite of products and the capability to supply them in every major region around the world.
A splashy cocktail reception heralded the introduction of 3B (Brussels, Belgium), a new independent fiberglass producer formed from the Battice (Belgium) and Birkeland (Norway) plants that were divested by Owens Corning at the request of antitrust regulators during the Vetrotex acquisition. 3B will continue to make and sell independently trademarked Advantex and HiPer-tex glass products under license to OCV.
Elsewhere on the show floor, Ahlstrom, Glass Nonwovens (Kotka, Finland), which recently took steps to double glass fiber capacity at its U.S. plant (Bishopville, S.C.), announced further capital investment in its other facilities to meet demand for its glass materials, targeted specifically to the wind energy market, which the company predicts will grow by 20 percent or more.
Gurit (Wattwil, Switzerland) drew showgoers to its stand with a show-stopping, deep maroon Aston Martin DBS, which features a carbon fiber hood, fenders and bumpers manufactured for Aston Martin by Gurit. Gurit’s new product introductions, however, focused on the wind energy, marine and aerospace markets, in addition to automotive. SparPreg is a UD prepreg for use in thick laminate sections. It reportedly features good breathability with low void content and doesn’t require debulking or additional dry fabric reinforcement to aid air removal. This allows the component manufacturer to increase productivity and reduce weight and cost. Focused on aircraft interior prepregs is PB1000, a modified benzoxazine resin without free formaldehyde and free phenol designed to meet environmental standards like Airbus AP2091. It complies with JAR/FAR fire protection regulations.
The Huntsman Advanced Materials GmbH (Basel, Switzerland) stand featured the Courage Oreca LC70, a LeMans prototype race car, developed and constructed using the latest Huntsman Araldite composite materials and adhesives. The car’s designer is the legendary Hugues de Chaunac. The founder of boutique motorsport engineering firm ORECA (Toulon, Cedex, France), Chaunac spoke at a Huntsman press event held at the show, where he described the benefits composites bring to the business of race car development.
On the equipment side, MAG Cincinnati (Hebron, Ky.), already a well known manufacturer of relatively large automatic tape layers (ATL) and automatic fiber placement (AFP) machines, introduced its new Small Flat Tape Layer (SFTL) as part of the CHARGER Series of ATLs. Designed to manufacture long, narrow, flat parts, nested multipart laminates and drape-formed components, the compact system is reportedly suitable for fabrication of aerospace spars, stringers, beams, ply packs, shear ties, frames, flaps and skins. There are two models. One produces laminates up to 1.2m (47 inches) wide; the other yields produces laminates up to 2.5m (100 inches) wide.
Automated Dynamics (Schenectady, N.Y.) introduced its new articulated arm robot for automated fiber placement and tape laying in both R&D and production settings. Company personnel reported a highly positive response to this affordable and flexible approach to advanced composites manufacturing.
MF Tech Srl (Argentan, France) also showed an articulated robotic arm, which attracted a lot of attention and visitor traffic. Designed for automated manufacturing lines, the 6-axis robot handles the part being produced, while a stationary creel or other device holds the tow or roving.
Look for a complete review of the new products and technology innovations that were on display at the JEC COMPOSITES Show in the July issue of HPC.