From the Publisher - 12/1/2007

#sheetmoldingcompound #infrastructure


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I‘m seeing a paradigm shift in the world today, and composite materials are in the thick of it. As the price of all forms of energy rise and people everywhere express their desire to build safe and comfortable lives, we need to rethink how we use and distribute the earth’s resources. I’m an optimist. I think mankind will come up with all kinds of creative solutions to support sustainable life on earth. Those solutions will require that we make some changes. And every little bit helps. For example, our story on the growing wood plastic composites industry (p. 25) discusses the fact that forward thinking WPC suppliers are working with heretofore waste fiber, such as rice hulls and wheat straw, to create wood-like products with superior properties. Perhaps we can cut down fewer trees and use what we have more efficiently.

In this issue’s three other features — a roundup of nonautomotive uses of SMC (p. 30), a manufacturing story on threaded thermoplastic rod (p. 34), and a bridge design case study (p. 46) — we see composite materials being used for infrastructure applications that many times in the past were unattainable because of cost and engineering skepticism. Surely, better materials and new processes are making composite products more competitive cost-wise, but engineers also are gaining confidence in composites and are more willing to consider lifecycle costs, which include in the product cost equation factors such as energy conservation and prolonged usefulness. Those who use the lifecycle approach ask paradigm-challenging questions: Gee, what if this structure lasts longer and we never have to paint it? What if we build it on site to save shipping cost? While composites can’t solve all of the world’s problem, as I said, every little bit helps.

I recently returned from a two-week stay in Florida, where I attended the IBEX conference in Miami and then went on to the ACMA conference in Tampa. Although the Composites Pavilion at IBEX was nicely laid out and there were many exhibitors, it seemed to me that there wasn’t as much traffic as in previous years. It may have had something to do with the fact that the show was less than a week before the ACMA event. I think everyone agrees this isn’t ideal for either group, and credit goes to the ACMA leadership for acting quickly to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

At the ACMA Awards luncheon, John Tickle, president of Strongwell Corp. and ACMA’s incoming president, announced that the next COMPOSITES & POLYCON annual event will be delayed until February 2009, stressing that the organization is nimble enough to change when change seems best. Frankly, I think that was a great move. I remember everyone looking forward to going to IBEX when it was in Florida in February, before it moved to its current October timeframe. It was the first show of the year after several months of little travel, and it felt like a welcome vacation after shivering in the cold of Colorado all winter. The venue has not been announced; we’ll keep you posted.

The ACMA event claimed record attendance of around 4,000. Although there was some anguish on the show floor about downturns in the construction and automotive markets, it seems industry manufacturers are getting creative and tapping into new, high-volume applications as never before. The big winners in ACMA’s ACE Awards Competition were new applications that safeguard the safety of individuals and the environment: portable fire rescue chambers for miners, lightweight ballistic tent panels to keep soldiers safe on the battlefield, and a huge, 88-ft wide scrubber tower. Although the scrubber wasn’t a new application, its method of onsite manufacture was, and certainly represents a convenience no other material could provide.

If you’re an industry supplier, you should have received your space reservation information for the COMPOSITESWORLD Expo ’08 in Chicago by now. If you haven’t confirmed your space yet, call me or Donna Wyatt at (303) 467-1776.

Have a wonderful holiday.