Editorial - 5/1/2005
I'm stuck in Washington, D.C. (hoping for a flight home tomorrow morning, after the last leg of my return flight from Paris was cancelled due to a spring snowstorm in Denver), mulling over my impressions of the just concluded SAMPE Europe/JEC show. Attendance was good. I haven't seen the official numbers yet — but exhibitors I spoke with were satisfied, especially with turnout from the transportation, industrial and energy sectors. In the main, resin price increases are holding, though profit margins remain tight as fiberglass producers compete with lower-cost Asian glass. But even the uncertainty in international markets and high oil prices didn't seem to dampen spirits. Material suppliers and parts manufacturers expect composites growth to outperform other industrial sectors by a point or two, on average. In a sign of the times, SAMPE Europe featured a wider range of topics than I can mention here. As long predicted, it seems composite materials are achieving the diversity of application that we always said they would.
The availability of carbon fiber is the one black cloud in the picture. After looking at "expert" growth projections for carbon fiber demand and the known and announced nameplate capacity coming on line, it seemed to me that the scant supply of carbon fiber would be short-lived (maybe 18 months or so) and that prices would not spike as high as they had in the past (up to $20/lb for intermediate-modulus fiber), which they haven't.
A factor that has come into play more aggressively than many, including myself, predicted is the product "mix." Both Boeing and Airbus are increasingly demanding higher-modulus 12K fiber, the production of which reduces the throughput on a carbon fiber line to around 50 percent of nameplate capacity. In response, we understand that Toray intends to bring yet another 4 million lb online in France by 2007. Since, as usual, fiber needed for aerospace has the highest priority, it's become more difficult than we all anticipated for nonaerospace prepreggers and manufacturers to get intermediate-modulus 12K fiber at this time. More commercial-grade fiber is in the works as well and manufacturers are evaluating anew their ability to work with lower-cost commercial-grade heavy tow fiber. Our "Inside Manufacturing" story discusses how a manufacturer of filament winding equipment has optimized its machinery to use the heavier fiber.
This issue of HPC will go to the SAMPE Symposium in Long Beach, Calif. (May 1-5) and includes three aerospace articles. Our intention in the "Boeing Update" article was to present as much information as possible on the processes, materials and manufacturing partners selected by Boeing for its 787 Dreamliner. We worked closely with Boeing to round up what was available, but it's obvious there is much left to be decided. We'll stay hot on the trail and follow up with the complete story as the 787 program matures. "Focus on Design,", looks at the design and manufacture of a first-ever all-composite fan blade containment case for jet engines, a carbon-braid-reinforced structure with ductility and strength equal to traditional aluminum and aluminum/aramid-wrap designs, yet significantly lighter in weight. And our aircraft repair feature discusses, among other topics, the imminent need for training of repair personnel at MRO facilities around the world, as new aircraft go into service with safety-critical structures made of composites. (Look for our wrap up of both the SAMPE Europe/JEC show and the SAMPE Long Beach event in our forthcoming July issue).
See you in Long Beach!