Boy, have I been on the road, lately. I’ve attended the Speed News commercial aircraft conference in California, flown to the EPTA pultrusion conference in Rome, ridden the train to Paris for the JEC COMPOSITES Show, had a week to catch my breath, and now I’m writing this from the SME Composites Manufacturing conference in Salt Lake City. At all of the places I’ve been — different venues, different audiences, and different end-use markets — I’ve heard a common theme: Composites are booming.
At Speed News, it was noted that 2007 saw the highest number of commercial aircraft orders ever. Amazingly, the trend is predicted to continue. The thing to remember about this market prediction is that the world’s developed countries currently have what they need in terms of the total number of aircraft and are buying new aircraft mainly to replace aging fleets or improve efficiency. Emerging regions, however, have nowhere near the fleet size they’ll need to handle their ever-growing passenger demand, so for the next 20 years, aircraft OEMs will be supplying these growing economies. The old axiom that when the U.S. economy declines, aerospace and defense applications tend to grow stronger, is still true as well.
The pultrusion conference in Rome, as always, was an excellent gathering — and pultruders are really hustling. Although the chairman, Dr. Luigi Giamundo, laughingly noted in his summation that “pultruders don’t like math,” the highly technical discussions at this year’s conference indicated to me that pultrusion is becoming more sophisticated all the time. To mention just a couple of examples, Ashland Performance Materials’ Kathy Kitchen described her company’s advanced finite element modeling (FEA) program for pultrusion, which I found quite interesting. And Jerry Fanucci of KaZak Composites, who says his engineers now outnumber the production people on his staff, explained their innovative design for pultrusion of very wide structural sandwich panels. The panels feature highly engineered joints that bring value to the end-user by reducing installed costs for ship applications.
Notable at this year’s JEC event in Paris — still the biggest show in the global composites industry — were the many announcements of new plant and capacity expansions, which we’ve detailed in our JEC “highlights” on p. 32. And here in Salt Lake City, SME exhibitors are providing evidence that automated aerospace production technologies are maturing as old-line machinery producers build faster and more sophisticated equipment and new suppliers enter the market with innovative machine concepts. While aerospace has been a prime driver for development of incredibly fast, highly accurate automated processing equipment, there are many other applications that require neither aerospace tolerances nor the associated expense. Today, we see machinery manufacturers — established and new — looking at simpler, less complex, more robust, modular machines that offer, at a lower cost, reliable manufacturing options to a broader range of markets. This is what our industry needs.
We at COMPOSITESWORLD think it’s time that our broad range of markets had a simpler, less complex, more robust vehicle for composites industry education, as well. That is a prime driver behind the new North American trade exhibition and conference we’re hosting in Chicago this September. We’re gathering in one place the kind of expertise and technical know-how I’ve recently had to travel the world to benefit from. At COMPOSITESWORLD Expo, you’ll find a wealth of educational opportunities, with the emphasis on composites design and manufacturing. Our two-track program will meet the needs of those new to composites and enable industry veterans to reach new levels of composites expertise, no matter what end-markets they serve.
If you’re interested in exhibiting or attending the show, you can visit our Web site for more information (www.compositesworldexpo.com) or call (513) 527-8800.