Editorial - 12/1/2004



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Ah, the last issue of 2004. I think composites manufacturers almost anywhere in the world would agree that this has been a good year. Although raw material prices are heading upward, giving resin and fiber suppliers some relief, the increases are surprisingly modest, considering the volatility in gas and oil pricing -- and demand for composites products is growing.

Speaking of growing markets: End-users ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to those responsible for maintaining large, existing noncomposite structures are finally getting serious about the corrosion-resistance benefits of composite materials. Under the auspices of the DoD, the Advanced Materials and Process Technology Information Analysis Center (AMPTIAC), is about to publish A Program Management Guide for Selecting Materials. This first-of-its-kind resource will focus extensively on the necessity for and the practical steps involved in selecting corrosion-resistant materials such as composites during the design stage. "Designing-In Corrosion Resistance" (p. 30) is just a taste of the advice the Guide will provide to military designers (to obtain a copy, contact David H. Rose, AMPTIAC director, E-mail: amptiac@alionscience.com). On p. 38, several case studies illustrate how composites also are used as repair materials to strengthen corrosion-weakened metal and concrete structures, ensuring structural safety at affordable prices. These applications represent the huge potential yet to be realized.

Will "natural" resins made from soy beans and corn become a natural choice in the future? Eric Niemann, a Kansas soybean farmer and member of the United Soybean Board, thinks so. He enumerates their advantages over petroleum-based products, such as being less expensive, cleaner and renewable, on p. 7. Several big petroleum-based polyester resin producers and some new soy resin formulators agree, and are getting in on the action.

More on environmental issues: Susan Bassett's "Composites & Compliance" column (p. 10) suggests that composites manufacturers who face MACT-compliance deadlines perform self-audits -- and points out ways to avoid unnecessary complications. Finally, Owens Corning's Matt Dunn presents statistics (p. 9) compiled during a recently completed Conversion to Closed Molding study, which demonstrate that, with careful planning, molders can make a move into an environmentally friendly process with far less expense and inconvenience than most realize.

Our article on high speed trains (p. 34) confirms that composites have a few hurdles to overcome. In the past, trains have been almost iconically heavy, steel creatures, and their designers do not yet feel comfortable selecting composites for primary structures. There is the fire/smoke/toxicity issue, as well. Currently, composites are used in substructures to improve aerodynamics and facilitate weight reduction. As their performance characteristics become more familiar and the price of energy goes up, expect to see more composite materials on new trains.

Well, I must sign off. I'm rushing down to the sporting goods store to check out this moderately priced, indestructible composite snowboard we heard about, before they're all sold out and I can't buy myself one for Christmas. Get the whole story on its pretensioned glass laminate, beginning p. 44.

Have a great holiday and join me in a toast to 2004.