Despite the absence of the major resin suppliers, who are pushing for a biennial show schedule, the 2004 JEC Composites Show held March 30-April 1 in Paris was a thriving pourparler that showcased an array of new materials and applications. SAMPE Europe's International 25th annual conference, held concurrently, focused on material and process technology for aerospace. Both were well attended, consistent with the Paris event's reputation for bringing together under one roof all sectors of the composites industry, from low-cost, high-volume industrial product manufacturers to advanced aerospace fabricators. Overall, the outlook was positive and upbeat, with most companies reporting that business is looking better in 2004 than it was in 2003.
SAMPE Europe's conference attendance was up about 5 percent over last year, at 317 - the third year in a row that numbers have increased. High points included the Grand 25th Jubilee Dinner at the Salons Hoche and, for the first time in many years, a Partner's event, with a visit to Versailles. Keynote speaker Francis Abrams, from the USAF Wright Peterson Materials Laboratory, led off with the timely subject, "Composite Manufacturing for Affordable Structures."
This year, SAMPE joined with JEC to organize an "Aerospace Forum" with speakers from Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Embraer and Lufthansa Technik. The subjects included the A380, B7E7 and the impact the new technologies used in these future aircraft have on those who have to maintain them. There was a general positive tone about the use of composites, with Boeing and Airbus placing emphasis on their use in the primary structures and skins of the fuselage and wings of future commercial aircraft. Both Airbus and Boeing are focused on designs of carbon fiber composites that don't take on the appearance of traditional aluminum structure, but rather rely on the advantages of composites, for example, to construct fuselage panels with integrated interior skins to reduce costs.
During the conference sessions, Airbus Germany presented four papers that described innovative technologies under consideration in its "Black Fuselage" program, including a three-skin fuselage, with the frames between the inner skins and the stringers between the outer skins.
JEC's "User's Forums," a series of technical presentations on automotive, aerospace and marine composite applications, were standing room only. The automotive forum, with speakers from OEM, Tier 1 and material suppliers, emphasized both fiberglass and carbon fiber in structural components. Dr. Patrick Kim of DaimlerChrysler emphasized that OEM upper management does not need convincing that composites can "do the job," but needs to know that a viable supply base exists to support high-volume requirements. He also addressed the use of carbon fiber from a large OEM perspective, noting that its use in supercars does not automatically mean it will be used in larger-volume passenger cars. New processes that enable cost-effective fabrication of 10,000 and 30,000 units per year are required to make the leap, says Kim.
On the exhibit floor, there were new products and processes galore, and without the major resin suppliers on hand, the show belonged to the reinforcement companies. A standout was startup Bitbeam AB (Bromma, Sweden), which has developed a true three-dimensional weaving process, with a multiple-layer warp interlaced with two mutually perpendicular sets of multiple wefts, for producing damage-tolerant, net-shape fiber forms. Fiberex Glass Corp. (Leduc, Alberta, Canada) is now producing multiaxial fabrics, with or without chopped roving backing, as is glass producer Ahlstrom Corp. (Karhula, Finland). Flemings Textiles Ltd. (Ayrshire, Scotland, U.K.) has a new stitch-bonded glass infusion mat with thermoplastic core called Polymat "Hi-Flow," which has been shown in tests to reduce part infusion time by up to 50 percent. Roctool (Le Bourget du Lac, France) introduced the Cage System, its latest generation of molds inductively heated with an electrical current.
Many exhibitors unveiled business and personnel changes. Dow announced the divestiture of its FULCRUM thermoplastic composite technology to a newly formed company, Fulcrum Composites Inc. The new company has acquired all of the physical and intellectual assets of the FULCRUM technology, and will be headed by Chris Edwards, formerly Dow's business manager for FULCRUM. Elsewhere on the floor, Advanced Composites Group (ACG, Heanor, Derbyshire, U.K.) revealed that it has been purchased by aerospace and defense company UMECO plc, for £44 million or about 67 million Euro or $80 million (USD). AGY Holding Corp., formerly Advanced Glassfiber Yarns (AGY, Aiken, S.C., U.S.A.) announced its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the installation of new president and CEO Douglas Mattscheck, formerly of Saint-Gobain Technical Fabrics. And Johns Manville (Denver, Colo., U.S.A.) held a press conference to publicize new products as well as an expansion of its Slovakia facility, a furnace rebuild at its Ohio plant and a new initiative for fiberglass pipe, which will involve construction of a new U.S. plant.
There was a lot of excitement about new applications for carbon fiber in nonaerospace industries, coupled with concern about diminishing 12K and 24K carbon fiber supply and rising prices. Soficar (Abidos, France), which is 70 percent owned by Toray, announced that its new 1,800 ton/year small tow carbon fiber manufacturing line will be operational by October of this year. Zoltek Corp. (St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A.) took the opportunity to showcase its Panex 35 commercial large-tow carbon fiber, which has performed as well as some aerospace grade fibers in compressive strength properties. The company announced a new European wind blade application and expects to publicize additional new customers in the industrial sector in coming months.
Especially noteworthy, national member associations of the Groupement Européen des Plastiques Renforcés/Matériaux Composites (GPRMC) announced the reorganization of its 44-year-old organization under the new name EuCIA (European Composites Industry Assn.). The new association issued an invitation at JEC to Eastern European nations soon to become members of the European Union to form national composites associations and join with EuCIA in a cooperative effort to promote composites technologies and influence the development of composites-related standards and regulatory legislation, on the European and global fronts. EuCIA can be contacted at the former GPRMC headquarters, Diamant Bldg., Blvd. A, Reyerslaan 80, BE-1030 Brussels, Belgium, Tel.: +32 270 6796 0; E-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.eucia.org.
Look for coverage of the new products premiered in Paris and this month's U.S. SAMPE Show in the next issue of HPC.