Musings on my first CAMX

Insights and inspiration from the 2018 Composites and Advanced Materials Expo which was held in Dallas, TX, US last week. 

I’m back in the office after a week in Dallas at CAMX 2018. Having joined the CW team in February, this was my first CAMX so I went to the show expecting to be blown away and I have to say, the show delivered. 

Composites is a complicated industry and trying to learn about all of the different materials and processes and technologies has been, to use a cliche, very much of a drink from the fire hose. So I went to CAMX hoping to connect some of the dots for a few things I’ve seen at other industry events I’ve attended over the past 6 months. I’m happy to report that I did have a few eye opening moments, but also some unexpected moments of inspiration that seriously raised goosebumps.

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Starting off the event with a keynote from Dr. Charles Kuehmann of SpaceX (Hawthorne, CA, US) and Tesla Motors (Palo Alto, CA, US) set the tone. Listening to him speak about how the two companies are working to not only visit and potentially colonize Mars and help humanity take its first steps to new worlds, but also looking to protect the environment and improve life on Earth through lightweighting and renewable energy efforts, helped me find a hope for the future that has found itself a bit buried beneath the daily barrage of politics, natural disasters and man-made atrocities. Watching video of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) launch set to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” brought chills as I thought of the impacts these technological developments would have in my lifetime and that of my two daughters. So much of what our future holds seemed to be happening right in front of me at CAMX.

I’m still new to the CW team, so I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of the innovation, creativity and collaboration was going on around me, but here’s some of what I walked away from the show thinking about.

  • Sustainability is on everyone’s mind. Companies like Vartega (Golden, CO, US) are working hard make recycled carbon fiber a viable material for high volume use in automotive lightweighting. During CAMX the company announced it’s working with a consortium of Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI, Knoxville, TN, US) companies on a project that strives to close the loop on automotive carbon fiber prepreg manufacturing scrap for use in new automotive applications. 
  • Sustainability isn’t limited to recycling efforts. Companies like Entropy Resins (Hayward, CA, US) are creating bio-based resins, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their processes by 33% over conventional petroleum based epoxies. 
  • Additive manufacturing’s role in the composites industry continues to advance at an amazing pace. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN, US) had a wind turbine blade on display that featured an honeycomb sandwich structure created from 3D printed foam. Cincinnati Inc. (Harrison, OH, US) had their additively manufactured production tool for Boeing’s (Chicago, IL, US) 777X winglet on display – which holds a record for being the largest 3D printed object in the world. (Not to mention that the foldable carbon fiber wing of the 777X that the tool is used to fabricate is a feat of composites engineering itself).
  • While aerospace and automotive tend to steal the spotlight, equally important strides are being made in infrastructure. I had an interesting conversation at the DowAksa (Istanbul, Turkey) booth with Dan Beattie, business director for Government Markets & Lightweight Materials for DOW about composites in infrastructure. The company is focused on industrial grade carbon fiber targeted at the transportation, energy and infrastructure markets. We talked a bit about the IMAGINE Act, bipartisan legislation that in Aug. was introduced in US Congress that seeks to encourage the use of innovative and advanced materials in infrastructure. 

A few personal moments of my trip helped me put everything I was seeing into a sort of context that helped me think about the enormous scope of it all. On Wednesday I arrived at the show and was greeted by a movie prop of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder from the first Star Wars movie, my first movie in a theater. I read the placard stating that the prop was fabricated from fiberglass and carbon fiber. It was cool to realize something so ingrained in my own childhood had a tie to an industry that I’m now lucky enough to find myself learning and writing about. It wasn’t something surprising, but something that gave some perspective about how composites are part of everyone’s lives in ways we don’t even think about. Again I found myself thinking about my own kids, ages 6 and 4. Thanks in no small part to the very technologies celebrated at CAMX, they’ll likely see us return to the moon in then next year or two, this time as a stepping stone for a larger leap for humanity out into the stars. I hope that we can simultaneously make advances in renewable energy and improve our infrastructure so this planet can be a safe place for them.

While in Dallas I walked a few blocks to Dealey Plaza to see the JFK memorial. As I walked along the route of the motorcade and looked at all the imagery that I’ve seen so many times in frames of the Zapruder film, I thought about President Kennedy’s challenge to our nation to go to the moon. My final day at CAMX I found myself thinking of several of his quotes and settled upon one that reflects the hope I felt after seeing all the good work being done in the composites industry. Kennedy said, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they must be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” I left Dallas encouraged that composites and advanced materials, with all of the things they can enable from interplanetary spacecraft to lighter, lower emission automobiles to fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) rebar, might help us to improve our future – both with an eye to the stars and with our feet right here on the ground.