We just got back from JEC Europe 2014 (March 11-13, Paris, France). We look forward to this show because it affords us a look, all at once, at what many of the industry’s most important suppliers have in store for you in terms of product and technology development. We came away feeling as if we’d just drunk from a fire hose, overwhelmed by innovations numerous enough to keep the composites industry busy for a quite a while. Although we plan a full JEC report in the June issue of CT, it’s worth noting here a few of the most intriguing trends we observed. (For a hint of the new technology we saw, peruse the “New Products” on the CT April 2014 Home Page.)
System integration: The automotive industry is demanding of composites fabricators the same consistency, repeatability and quality that they are used to getting from legacy materials and processes. Touch labor is out. Automation is in. Several suppliers, including Pinette Emidecau, Dieffenbacher, KraussMaffei, Fives Cincinnati, Engel and RocTool, introduced or emphasized turnkey manufacturing cells for resin transfer molding (RTM) or compression molding. Each promised lots of automation, short cycle times, consistency and applicability to high-volume environments.
Snap-cure: A molding system is only as fast as its resin, and materials suppliers are getting that message. Dow introduced an epoxy with a <90-second cycle time, targeted specifically to the automotive market. Henkel, Momentive, Cytec, Huntsman, Gurit and Bayer are all in the same cycle-time neighborhood with thermoset materials of their own, for RTM, pultrusion, infusion and compression molding processes.
Thermoplastic-friendly carbon fiber: Because carbon fiber is seeing increasing use in automotive applications and thermoplastic composites are seeing increasing use everywhere, making the two compatible has become a necessity. SGL Group and Toho Tenax each introduced at JEC Europe a new carbon fiber sizing optimized for thermoplastic resins.
Passenger tubs: Composites fabricators seem to have determined collectively that the best way to alert automakers to their proficiencies was to mint a carbon fiber composite passenger protection cell, either for a real car (high-end sports) or as a capability demonstrator. CT counted no fewer than 10 tubs on display.
The other tub: Among the JEC Innovation Award winners, what most caught our eye was the glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene washing machine tub molded by Russian firm Polyplastic, using Owens Corning materials. Hydrolysis-resistant, the tub enables an increase in laundry load from 5 kg to 7 kg (11 lb to 15.4 lb).
Styrene-free: Reichhold, it appears, has cracked the styrene-replacement code for vinyl ester, introducing at JEC a new product called ADVALITE. Technically a vinyl “hybrid,” it offers no-VOC performance without the use of reactive diluents (see p. 34 for more news about styrene and cobalt replacment technologies).
If the activity level, crowds and busy-ness of JEC Europe 2014 are an auger of overall industry health, then it’s probably fair to say that the composites community is in the midst of significant and dynamic expansion. We certainly hope so.