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May 2009
The color purple

 

Author:
Posted on: 4/14/2009
High-Performance Composites

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Sara Black mug shot

Sara Black is the technical editor of High-Performance Composites magazine.

So, I finally heard about the “no complaints” movement the other day, which involves wearing a rubberized purple bracelet and switching it from one wrist to the other whenever one utters a negative word. If a person can go 21 days without a wrist switch, she or he has formed a new., more positive outlook. Originally posited by the Rev. Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Mo., nearly three years ago, the nonprofit, nonreligious A Complaint Free World organization sends out bracelets — more than 5 million so far, worldwide — to help people affect change in their lives. The basic idea is that if you are positive in your words and deeds, you will attract other positive people and experiences, shed negativity, and improve your overall situation. As the group’s Web site (www.acomplaintfreeworld.org) advocates, talk about what you do want and not what you don’t want.

You’re wondering what this has to do with anything? Well, the idea resonated with me, in part, because I’ve been working on myself for years to counter negative thoughts. You are your thoughts, and thoughts can be changed, right? It also put me in mind of the composites industry. I have met many composites professionals over the years, and the vast majority seem to be extremely intelligent, masters of new ideas, hard workers and ... well, optimistic — even now, in this abominable financial market we find ourselves in. Take the recent JEC Composites Show: I never found myself in a dark or dreary conversation during the entire event. Almost everyone, from students to heads of companies, talked about new products, new designs, new business plans, new facilities purchased or upcoming collaborations. For example, I had the chance to speak with Andre Genton, who heads Huntsman Advanced Materials (The Woodlands, Texas), and Doron Grosman, Hexcel’s new president (Dublin, Calif.), and both were especially energetic and forward thinking. They talked of continuing research and development, expressed excitement regarding new products and spoke of an “extremely positive long-term outlook,” to quote Grosman.

I certainly could have forgiven them a little cynicism; there’s plenty to be pessimistic about. Delays in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner program, and some order cancellations, are impacting aerospace suppliers and causing some layoffs, as is a 7 percent downtown in general aviation deliveries, compared to last year. There’s uncertainty in defense funding at the moment, and the bottom has fallen out of automotive and marine. And that’s just composites — the scope of the broader worldwide financial market downturn is downright scary. Some composites companies are very well positioned right now, with strong order books, thanks to existing contracts, and others have enough backlog to stay afloat for a while, but I suspect that some are hanging on, or “hunkering down,” as someone said, trying to ride out these rough times.

So, I asked myself, is the unrelenting optimism simply a way of putting on the best possible face to cover their fears? Perhaps. But I think there’s something else at work. Most composites companies have the strength of really good ideas pushing them forward, whether material or process related, and it gives them the willingness to take risks and keep pressing on. That attitude has gotten the industry this far, despite perennial resistance from established materials, and I think it’s going to continue to buoy us.

I believe that composites are well positioned to benefit in this new post-globalization world because they are the essential materials for many alternative energy applications, infrastructure fixes and new lightweight vehicles. A lot of money is still available in the composite materials market (see “Market Trends” in this issue on p. 9) because investors are interested in the capabilities and the innovations they see. And, because the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus program targets alternative energy and other innovative technologies, the industry stands to benefit. Instead of just waiting for better times, this industry is creating better times with ongoing innovations, large and small. JEC exhibitors offered many innovations, such as automation for wind blade fabrication, new out-of-autoclave materials, automated high-pressure tank fabrication and a clever new type of honeycomb core with resin-infused cell walls (more about these in our “JEC 2009 Product Showcase,” next issue). There are certainly challenges ahead: the industry needs to continue to tackle the big issue of more efficient production, through out-of-autoclave innovations and improvements in material laydown rates in automated production scenarios, to meet future volume demands.

I realize it’s a tough time all around for many people, but the composites industry, for the most part, is holding strong. Those purple bracelets are working — we’ve got no complaints.

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