The Odd Couple

CT editor-in-chief Jeff Sloan draws attention to the disappearing gap between the composites industry's once widely separated "aerospace-grade" and "industrial-grade" sectors.
#editorial #autoclave #outofautoclave


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If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you are a subscriber to CT. And if you are, it’s also likely that you are involved in some way in the design and manufacture of composite structures that are typically reinforced with glass fiber, natural fiber or discontinuous carbon fiber, destined for end-use in automotive, marine, wind, construction, infrastructure and other markets. 

What some of you may not know is that we also have a sister publication, High-Performance Composites (HPC) magazine, which, from its inception, has targeted composites professionals who serve aerospace, space, high-end automotive and similar markets where extreme strength- and stiffness-to-weight requirements typically make continuous carbon fiber the reinforcement of choice.

For many years these two “sides” of the industry that CT and HPC serve — “general purpose” and “high-performance,” for lack of better terms — seemed like the Odd Couple — two people living under one roof, each with apparently different habits. Despite the common interest — manufacture of fiber-reinforced polymers — there seemed to exist little that could bring these two closer together.

And then, a few years ago, funny things started to happen. First, the aerospace composites side, which had for so long relied on the autoclave to cure composite structures, started looking for autoclave-free options, which led it to the so-called general-purpose world and its developing resin infusion, resin transfer molding (RTM) and compression molding processes — and even to reinforced thermoplastics. Meanwhile, those general-purpose composites shops, seeking to reduce weight even further in wind blades, marine components and automotive structures, started using continuous carbon fiber. Today, it’s much more difficult — and in many ways, unfair — to define sides anymore.

None of this should be surprising. You may not always sense it, but the composites industry is unusually, demonstrably and increasingly dynamic, creative and fast-changing, so it seems inevitable to me that as it evolves, we would see people like you seeking out best practices wherever they can be found. 

A sign of this evolution — not to mention a good place to find those best practices — is the new Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX) trade show and conference, which will be launched this October in Orlando, Fla., hosted by the American Composites Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA) and the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) — previously bastions in North America of the two “sides,” if you’re looking for context. 

CAMX already is shaping up to deliver on its promise of presenting the industry as a whole and will, I hope, go a long ways toward unifying the North American composites industry once and for all. In any case, we’ll be there in force, keeping tabs on the continuing evolution, and hope to see you there.