SAMPE Europe Conference

Change of venue, dates does much to enrich the organization's annual Paris conclave.

SAMPE Europe made some significant changes to its 27th International Conference and Forums, which were much appreciated by the increased number of attendees — up more than 10 percent from last year, to nearly 350. First, the three-day conference was moved forward by one day, running from Monday, March 27 through Wednesday, March 29. This opened the way for conference attendees to visit the exhibits at the JEC Composites Show on its final day, without missing any papers. The second big change was to move the conference from its previous location in the Paris Expo hall to the nearby Mercure Hotel. The hotel's facilities were far more spacious and the ambience was a great improvement. The provision of a conference lunch on the first day gave a good opportunity to meet people early in the conference.

SAMPE International was well represented at the event by president Tia Benson Tolle, executive director Gregg Balko, technical director Scott Beckwith and business development manager Karen Chapman. SAMPE International used the conference as the forum for its announcement of officers for 2007 (see news item on p. 25).

The conference started with a keynote presentation by Al Miller, The Boeing Co.'s (Seattle, Wash.) director of technology integration for the 787 aircraft. Compared with previous presentations on this aircraft, Miller gave the impression that Boeing was confident, based on testing performed in the last year or so, that it would achieve the significant performance improvements promised by composites.

One of most important aspects of SAMPE is the work done with postgraduate students, for whom a miniconference is held on the weekend before the main conference. Most of the students had already won a competition in their own countries en route to Paris, so the standard is very high. This year's winner was Elsa Franchini of INSA Lyon (Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon), Laboratory of Macromolecular Materials (Villeurbanne, France). Her subject was "Epoxy-Sepiolite Nanocomposite, Processing and Characterisation of a Promising Environmental Friendly Fire Retardant Material."

The technical papers achieved SAMPE's usual high standard, which makes it difficult to single out any particular one. What must be mentioned is the ever-increasing interest in liquid molding techniques, for which the conference provided two full Liquid Molding sessions supplemented by three Textile Technology sessions. The latter focused on making and analyzing the performance of preforms used with infusion processes.

Of particular interest were the "One Topic" sessions organized around a particular theme or subject. One example was a session of four papers on the FUBACOMP (FUll BArrel COMPosite) program. After a program overview of the development of a business jet-sized fuselage with carbon fiber composites by Dassault Aviation (Paris, France), detailed results were given of the manufacture of a prototype structure, using automatic tape laying by BAE Systems in the U.K. An innovative tooling concept was described by Advanced Composite Group in the U.K. Another paper featured a monolithic composite door made by a one-shot RTM process at Eurocopter in Germany.

Another interesting cluster of papers came from The Carbon Fibre Valley at Stade in Germany. This area features a number of composite technology development activities close to Airbus Germany's main composite center. Topics ranged from improving the productivity of ply cutting to the use of piezoceramic particles to improve damping. However, this author has one problem with this organization: why do the normally very precise Germans describe the flat plain of the "Alt Landt" as a valley!

On the final afternoon, a forum on "The Carbon Fiber Supply Challenge" provided an upbeat end to a successful conference. Organized and jointly chaired by top executives of two world-class composites manufacturers, Les Cohen from U.S.-based Hitco Carbon Composites (Gardena, Calif.) and Mark Erath from Xperion (Herford, Germany), the forum's speakers included Michel Brisson from Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan), Jens Hinrichsen from Alcoa (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Edward Carson from Hitco, Al Miller from Boeing, Tim McCarthy from Zoltek Inc. (St. Louis, Mo.), Eckhard Scholten from Toho-Tenax Europe GmbH (Wuppertal, Germany) and Jonathan Stowell from Hexcel (Dublin, Calif.). The hot topic was the supply shortage: Toray's Brisson opened the discussion by saying that attributing blame for the current situation is not the way forward. The fiber suppliers agreed that the timescales for new plants are at least three years and that a new plant has to be justified by an adequate return on investment. The current shortage was attributed to a large increase in industrial usage, coinciding with a reversal of the downturn in aerospace demand experienced just a few years ago. The largely aerospace-based audience was surprised to hear that 85 percent of produced fiber is now consumed in nonaerospace applications.

Boeing's Miller emphasized that, in the future, growth in the use of composites in aircraft will come only when more of a systems approach is taken. This more comprehensive assessment will necessarily include more advanced analysis methods, fibers with improved modulus and strain and newer product forms, increased sophistication in structural tailoring as well as the use of hybrid material forms, such as Ti-Carbon materials.

Alcoa's Hinrichsen was very upbeat with a clear vision that the next generation of commercial aircraft — to be designed from 2010 onward — would need a new generation of processes and materials. New processes such as Friction Stir Welding and Creep Forming will improve utilization so that higher performance alloys can be used more cost-effectively. Further, a new generation of fibers is expected to enable the creation of improved Fiber Metal Laminates (e.g., GLARE). The next generation of aircraft will be built from both improved carbon fiber composites and advanced metal alloys using new processes and will include combinations of these improved materials in advanced Fiber Metal Laminates.