Now in its ninth year, the Society of Plastics Engineers’ (SPE) Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) returns to Michigan State University’s Management Education Center in Troy, Mich., Sept. 15-16, amidst a grueling global automotive downturn. All automakers are reporting record losses and restructuring efforts. Bankruptcy proceedings have yielded “new” and significantly smaller versions of Chrysler Group LLC (Auburn Hills, Mich.) and General Motors Co. (Detroit, Mich.). At a crucial crossroad in the industry’s century-long history, the annual conference may very well end up charting unprecedented changes, with big automakers getting much smaller, and small automakers poised to get much bigger, with similar trends evident among automotive industry tier suppliers.
Highlighting electrics and hybridsIn keeping with those trends and this year’s conference theme, “Plug in to Composites,” several of the event’s keynote speakers hail from startup automakers that are developing or already produce hybrid-electric or plug-in-electric vehicles with composites-intensive bodies.
“With all the interest we saw last year in improving fuel economy, reducing dependency on petroleum fuels, and providing cleaner, greener transportation options,” explains conference chair Cedric Ball, marketing projects leader, Ashland Performance Materials (Dublin, Ohio), “we felt this year’s ACCE should highlight the tremendous environmental benefits composites offer for reducing mass and creating more aerodynamic styling, while also lowering cost, improving aesthetics and fuel economy, lowering tailpipe emissions, and maintaining safety.”
Barrie Dickinson, director, Roadster Programs at Tesla Motors (San Carlos, Calif.) will speak about “Plastics & Composites Solutions for the ’10MY Tesla Roadster” (see “Learn More”). Dana Myers, president of Myers Motors (Tallmadge, Ohio), the manufacturer of the 75 mph/121 kph NmG (No More Gas) three-wheel commuter electric vehicle, is giving a talk entitled “Composites Help Electrify Transportation.” Hadrian Rori, vice-president of Vehicle Engineering at Bright Automotive (Anderson, Ind.), which expects to launch its composite-bodied Bright IDEA delivery van in 2012, will discuss “Development of the 100 MPG Bright Automotive Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle.” And each of these new automaker’s electric vehicles will be on display at the conference for viewing by attendees.
Additional keynote speakers confirmed for the 2009 program include the following: Deborah Mielewski, technical leader of the Plastics Research, Research & Innovation Laboratory at Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, Mich.) will ask “Can You Be-Leaf It? Ford Motor Company’s Research in Bio-based Materials.” Mike Shinedling, Viper program manager, SRT Engineering at Chrysler, and Gary Lownsdale, engineering manager at Plasan Carbon Composites (Bennington, Vt.), will copresent “Aerodynamic Breakthroughs on the ’69MY Dodge Daytona & the ’08MY Dodge Viper ACR.” Kalyan Sehanobish, senior scientist at Dow Chemical (Midland, Mich.), will present “A Vision for Carbon Fiber Composites in Automotive.” Eann Patterson, director of the Composite Vehicle Research Center, Michigan State University (East Lansing, Mich.), will discuss his university’s new automotive composites research center in “An Innovative Process for Composite Structures from the Nano- to Macro-Scale: A Vision for a New Center.”
In addition, the ACCE technical program will present an equally diverse look at the world of composites. Sessions include Advances in Thermoplastic Composites; Advances in Thermoset Composites; Bio- & Natural Fiber Composites; Emerging Technologies; and Virtual Prototyping & Testing of Composites. Several presentations are planned on the new direct-SMC process that Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co. KG (Eppingen, Germany) is developing in cooperation with Fraunhofer Institute of Chemical Technology (Pfinztal, Germany). At least one panel discussion, entitled “The New Automotive Landscape,” is planned for this year’s show, moderated by Dale Brosius, a CT contributing writer and COO of Quickstep Technologies (West Coogee, Western Australia). (See Dale Brosius’ comments on the future of automotive composites in this issue's “Composites: Past, Present & Future.”)
Among the speakers presenting at this year’s show will be the winners of the second round of SPE ACCE graduate-level scholarships, who received awards in 2008 to help fund composites research with applicability to ground transportation. Awardee Tobias Potyra of the University of Karlsruhe and Fraunhofer ICT (both in Pfinztal, Germany) has focused his research on developing a direct processing technology to produce SMC with a Class A surface that is suitable for use in the automotive industry, with resulting benefits that include more consistent quality and lower costs. Uday Sharma, from the University of Michigan-Dearborn (Dearborn, Mich.), will describe his work on analysis of thermoplastic woven composites that were subjected to high strain rates in order to develop better data for use in predicting mechanical behavior and, potentially, validating FEA models.
Compressed but not dilutedGiven the industry’s economic situation, conference organizers have dropped an originally scheduled third day that has been a part of the show since 2005, during which about six hours of conference programming typically has been presented. “Clearly, this industry is going through a very difficult time and we’re in the midst of a necessary period of adjustment,” notes Ball. “Our authors, sponsors, and attendees have been letting us know that the difficult business environment has led to severe travel and budget restrictions at most companies. By packing our conference into a shorter, but denser, two-day schedule, we hope to make it easier for more people to attend.”
SPE also is offering a special day rate this year and hopes to be able to offer several hours of webinar coverage of key speeches during the event, all of which will make the program more affordable.
The compressed program notwithstanding, ACCE organizers promise an event with the strong technical content for which it has become known. According to SPE, the show is the “world’s leading automotive composites forum.” ACCE regularly draws more than 400 attendees from 14 countries on four continents, one-third of whom are employees of automotive, heavy-truck, agriculture, off-highway, or aviation/aerospace OEMs, and another 20 percent reporting they work for ground-transportation tier suppliers.
ACCE sponsorsAs would be expected in an industry reporting record losses this year, sponsorship for the show is down. At press time, the following companies were sponsoring and, in most cases, exhibiting at the conference.
Premier Sponsors for the 2009 show include Ticona Engineering Polymers (Florence, Ky.), and Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co., both of whom are exhibiting.
Associate Sponsors include Addcomp Holland BV (Nijverdal, The Netherlands), AOC Resins (Collierville, Tenn.), Ashland Performance Materials, the Automotive Composites Alliance (ACA, Arlington, Va.), BASF (Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany), BMC Inc. (West Chicago, Ill.), PlastiComp LLC (Winona, Minn.), PPG Industries (Pittsburgh, Pa.), and Williams, White & Co. (Moline, Ill.). (Addcomp, AOC, Ashland, BMC, Williams White, PlastiComp, and BASF will be exhibiting.)
RTP Co. (Winona, Minn.) is a lunch sponsor, exhibitor, and will also supply conference pens. Quadrant Plastic Composites (Lenzburg, Switzerland) is sponsoring the first night’s networking reception, and Ticona has returned as the sponsor of the conference registration bags.
Additionally, Media/Association Sponsors include Automotive Design & Production magazine, Automotive NewsWire, AVK (German Federation of Reinforced Plastics), Composites Technology and High-Performance Composites magazines, Injection Molding Magazine, the Journal of Automobile Engineering, Modern Plastics Worldwide, Omnexus/SpecialChem, Polymotive, Plastics Engineering magazine, Plastics Technology magazine, and Ward's AutoWorld.
For additional information about the SPE Automotive Composites Conference and the most current list of presentations, visit www.speautomotive.com/comp.htm.