SPE'S AUTOMOTIVE COMPOSITES SHOW PREVIEW

Conference continues growth trend despite tough North American market.

From Sept. 16-18, the SPE Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) returns for its eighth year to Michigan State University's Management Education Center in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Mich. Conference organizers, the Composites and Automotive Divisions of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) International (Brookfield, Conn.), bill the event as "the world's leading automotive composites forum." The show regularly attracts more than 400 participants (last year from 14 countries on four continents), with roughly one-third reporting they are employed by OEMs in the automotive, heavy truck, agricultural equipment, or aerospace industries, and another 15 to 17 percent work for transportation-industry tier suppliers.

This year's event theme, "The Road to Lightweight Performance," is said to reflect the progress that transportation OEMs and their suppliers have made in vehicle lightweighting, improving vehicle performance by replacing metal and glass with impact- and corrosion-resistant polymer composites.

"Sustained high fuel prices are convincing consumers to seek more efficient vehicles, but they would prefer not to sacrifice safety, comfort and performance as part of the bargain," says Dale Brosius, COO of Quickstep Technologies (Brighton, Mich. and North Coogee, Western Australia) and chair of the 2008 ACCE event. "Advancements in engine technology and alternative powertrains like hybrids and fuel cells can only go so far. Making vehicles lighter by using composites deserves equal consideration in closing the gap."

KEYNOTERS, TECHNICAL SESSIONS ADDRESS STATE OF TRANSPORTATION COMPOSITES

Show organizers say they work hard to line up a diverse group of keynote speakers each year to highlight the evolving world of transportation composites. They frequently turn to composites users in other industries to help highlight how these materials solve engineering, design and manufacturing challenges in applications that have some applicability to passenger vehicles. This year, reports on high-end racing bikes, Formula 1 race cars and extreme sports equipment are scheduled to encourage automakers to consider composites in next-generation vehicles.

Given the breadth of interests and subject matter represented by conference attendees, SPE typically schedules multiple keynote presentations. Keynote speakers and topics already confirmed for the 2008 show include Jim Colegrove, Trek Bikes (Waterloo, Wis.): "Carbon Fiber Composites in Bicycles: A Revolution"; Matt Tsien, General Motors Corp. (Detroit, Mich.): "Composites at GM: Past, Present, Future"; Gary Savage, Honda Racing F1 Team (Brackley, U.K.): "Composite Materials Technologies in Formula 1 Motor Racing"; Barbara A. Sanders, Delphi Corp. (Troy, Mich.): "History of Automotive Composites"; Jan-Anders Mansen, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland): "Composites in Extreme Sports"; Joe Carpenter, U.S. Department of Energy (Washington, D.C.): "Challenges to Automotive Composites"; Dave Warren, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tenn.): "Future Lower Cost Carbon Fiber for Autos: International Scale-Up & What is Needed"; as well as Keith Bihary, Molded Fiberglass Co. (Ashtabula, Ohio) and David Dyke, Meridian Automotive Systems (Allen Park, Mich.): "Thermoset Composite Applications for Hybrid Vehicles."

In addition, the conference's technical program presents an equally diverse look at composite materials and processes. Sessions currently planned for the event include Advances in Thermoplastic Composites; Advances in Thermoset Composites; Bio- & Natural Fiber Composites; Bonding, Joining, & Finishing of Composites; Enabling Technologies; Nanocomposites; New Composite Materials & Processes; Structural Composites; and Virtual Prototyping & Testing of Composites. A government and industry panel discussion also is planned for this year's show. Among the speakers at the conference will be the first two SPE ACCE graduate-level scholarship winners, who were given awards in 2007 to help fund composites research with applicability to ground transportation. Roston Elwell from Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas) will discuss his work on the use of active-core composite sandwich panels, while Alejandro Londono-Hurtado from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, Wis.) will report on the application of computer simulation and numerical modeling to predict variations in fiber orientation and density distribution during molding. Two new graduate-level scholarship winners will be announced for 2008, who, in turn, will report on their research findings at next year's conference (Sept. 15-17, 2009).

Additionally, conference organizers are once again recognizing excellence in technical writing by presenting Best Paper Awards in three categories: New Composite Materials, New Composite Processes/Enabling Technologies, and New Composite Applications. Winning manuscripts will be selected from papers submitted for peer review for the 2008 program. Their authors will receive a special plaque honoring their achievement during the conference's opening ceremonies.

Last year, conference organizers decided to make content from the 2002 through 2006 ACCE electronic proceedings guides, as well as conference program guides from the same period, available online at www.speautomotive.com/rc.htm. This spring, content from both the 2007 and 2001 programs were also added to this virtual library. SPE had previously charged $100 (USD) per CD per year but decided to allow access to the large body of conference papers, presentations, and abstracts at no charge to help promote the value of composites in ground transportation. Dr. Frank Henning of Fraunhofer Institute of Chemical Technology (Pfinztal, Germany), who is the 2008 ACCE conference vice-chair, says, "We believe that access to this material online will be very helpful for OEMs, suppliers, consultants, universities, and research facilities worldwide, whether they are just starting to learn about composites or are quite familiar with this diverse group of technologies." The Automotive Division Webmaster notes a significant increase in Web traffic since the content was migrated to the site.

SPONSORSHIP STRONG DESPITE DIFFICULT NORTH AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE MARKET

Despite the dismal news from the North American automotive market this year, show organizers report that sponsorship for the conference remains strong. Premier Sponsors include Ticona Engineering Polymers (Florence, Ky.), Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co. KG (Eppingen, Germany), Ashland Performance Materials Inc. (Dublin, Ohio), MAG Industrial Automation Systems (Sterling Heights, Mich.), RTP Co. (Winona, Minn.), Azdel Inc. (Forest, Va.), SABIC Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, Mass.), and Bruggemann Chemical (Heilbronn, Germany). Associate Sponsors include Addcomp Holland BV (Nijverdal, The Netherlands), AOC Resins (Collierville, Tenn.), ATF Assembly Solutions (Lincolnwood, Ill.), Multimatic Inc. (Markham, Ontario, Canada), HA Industries (Sterling Heights, Mich.), AsahiKasei (Fowlerville, Mich.), Gurit (Wattwil, Switzerland), Meridian Automotive Systems (Allen Park, Mich.), Reichhold Inc. (Durham, N.C.), the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division (Arlington, Va.), Bayer MaterialScience (Leverkusen, Germany), Williams, White & Co. (Moline, Ill.), and Plasan Carbon Composites (Bennington, Vt.). PPG Industries (Pittsburgh, Pa.) is a Coffee Break Sponsor this year, Quadrant Plastic Composites (Lenzburg, Switzerland) and Ashland Performance Materials are sponsoring networking receptions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and Ticona has again returned as the sponsor of the conference registration bags.

Additionally, Media/Association Sponsors include COMPOSITESWORLD, publisher of Composites Technology and High-Performance Composites magazines, sister publications Plastics Technology and Automotive Design & Production magazines, as well as American Composites Manufacturers Assn./Automotive Composites Alliance (publishers of CM Magazine), Ward's AutoWorld, Polymotive, Injection Molding Magazine, and Modern Plastics Worldwide.