Worlds colliding — literally

CW editor-in-chief Jeff Sloan announces CompositesWorld’s Composites Overmolding conference, scheduled for June 13-14, in Novi, MI, US.

If you have ever watched the 1990s American TV comedy “Seinfeld,” you might recall an episode where George lamented the collision of two worlds in his life. One world was represented by his friendships with Jerry, Elaine and Kramer. The other world was represented by his relationship with Susan, his girlfriend/fiance. It was important to George that these two worlds be kept separate, that the “sanctuary” of his friendships not be contaminated by his romantic life, and vice-versa. So when Elaine and Susan began spending time together, and when Susan took George’s seat at his favorite diner, George famously exclaimed, “My worlds are colliding!” And chaos ensued.

I am reminded of colliding worlds recently as I think back on my early days in the composites industry, juxtaposed with today. In 2006, when I joined CompositesWorld as editor, I had just finished a decade of work as editor and then publisher of Injection Molding magazine, a trade publication that, as the name implies, served the injection molding industry. I came to my new job at CW expecting some overlap of materials and technology between composites fabrication and injection molding. Instead, I found almost no overlap.

This should not have been surprising. Injection molding, then as now, was a mature manufacturing process, highly automated, machine-dependent, volume-driven and cycle time-focused. Part quality derived primarily from good process control, verified by randomized inspection. Resins were almost exclusively thermoplastic and most of the time were unreinforced. Technological innovation in injection molding, by 2006, had slowed to a trickle and was incremental at best. Major end markets were the automotive, medical, packaging, appliance and consumer-goods industries. Aerospace, marine and wind energy — mainstays of the composites industry — were almost never mentioned in my 10 years at Injection Molding.

Conversely, in the world of composites, I discovered a landscape dominated by nearly infinite variations of resins, fibers, fiber formats, tools and manufacturing processes. Hand work was, then as now, not uncommon, and there was almost no dependence on machinery of the type familiar to the injection molding industry. Cycle times were measured in hours, or at best, minutes, not seconds. Quality for many parts was assured via 100% inspection, and quality via process control was nearly unheard of. The great variety of available materials and processes made composites highly susceptible to change and innovation. Aerospace, marine and wind energy dominated. Automotive composites were relegated to the likes of Corvette and Lamborghini.

Of course, much has changed in the composites industry since 2006. Dynamic innovation is still a major driver of industry growth, which has pushed composites into applications that would have been difficult to imagine 12 years ago. Most notably, composites have begun a forceful push into mid- to high-volume automotive manufacturing. This is driven by several forces that we have covered much in CW — fuel efficiency regulations, emissions regulations, e-vehicle lightweighting — and facilitated by faster-curing resins, cheaper carbon fiber and more efficient manufacturing processes. 

And this is where my worlds collide. A fast-emerging process combines the endless potentialities of continuous fiber reinforcement from my present reality with the mature and established injection molding process. But unlike in George’s world, chaos isn’t the result. In fact, it’s cause for celebration: Called overmolding, it enables the fabrication of selectively reinforced parts. Continuous fiber preforms are placed strategically in a mold cavity and then are overmolded, partially or completely, by unfilled or chopped fiber-reinforced thermoplastic. This process is appealing for several reasons, but primarily because it offers molders the opportunity to produce structural parts with engineered reinforcement only where needed and produce those parts at unprecedented high rates. The result is a high quality, but much more economical, process and part, which is good not just for the automotive sector, but the aerospace industry and other end-markets as well. And overmolding is not limited to injection either. Overmolding via compression processes also is possible.

It is for these reasons that CW is proudly hosting the Composites Overmolding conference, June 13-14, in Novi, MI, US. For a day and a half CW will offer speakers and presentations that will explore the companies, materials and processes that are shaping overmolding today. The slate of presenters will include representatives from Ford Motor Co., Fraunhofer, PolyOne, SABIC, SGL, Victrex, KraussMaffei, Arburg and RocTool. Visit compositesovermolding.com for more information. I will of course be there, watching my worlds collide. I hope to see you as well.

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Low-profile, high-performance manufacturer

Whether you are aware of this company, or not, Advanced Composite Products & Technology Inc. (ACPT, Huntington Beach, CA, US) says it thrives on providing innovative and cost-efficient composite solutions. ACPT partners with composite material suppliers including Magnolia Advanced Materials (Atlanta, GA, US, http://magnolia-adv-mat.com ), a supplier of a diverse card of materials. Magnolia was an important supplier for a recent confidential project involving design and manufacture of a carbon fiber vehicle driveshaft.