Episode 34: Carmelo Lo Faro, Solvay Composite Materials
Carmelo Lo Faro, president of Solvay Composite Materials, talks about how he sees aerocomposites evolving in the time of COVID-19, the rise of computational power to evolve composites use, the prospects for increased composites use in the automotive market, and the increasing importance of education in the composites industry.
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Carmelo Lo Faro, president of Solvay Composite Materials is the guest on Episode 34 of CW Talks: The Composites Podcast.
Carmelo Lo Faro, president, Solvay Composite Materials. Photo Credit: Solvay Composite Materials.
Our guest on episode 34 of CW Talks: The Composites Podcast is Carmelo Lo Faro, president of Solvay Composite Materials (Alpharetta, Ga., U.S.). Carmelo was born and bred in Italy and has spent most of his career with Cytec and then Solvay when Solvay acquired the company in 2015. He has held the title of president for five years and works primarily in Solvay’s Alpharetta, Ga., U.S., offices.
Carmelo talks to CW about how he got into the composites, his work at Cytec and then Solvay, how he leads, how he sees aerocomposites evolving in the time of COVID-19, the rise of computational power to evolve composites use, the prospects for increased composites use in the automotive market, and the increasing importance of education in the composites industry.
Transcript of Carmelo Lo Faro interview with CW Talks, recorded Sept. 24, 2020
Jeff Sloan (JS): Let's go ahead and get started. I know you have a long history in the composites industry. You were first with Cytec and and now Solvay, which acquired Cytec a few years ago. But even before Cytec, at university in Italy, you were exposed to composite materials in the early 1990s, which in the history of the composites industry is relatively early. I'm wondering what drew you to composites originally?
Carmelo Lo Faro (CLF): That's a great question. No, I'm someone who's always liked to explore, and to work in new areas and uncharted territories. What I've always liked about composites is that they are ultimately a very young new technology, with many, many opportunities. Now, as an engineer, looking at the many degrees of freedom that composites have, is truly fascinating and exciting. You have multiple layers, you can change the final direction, you can introduce something between layers, you have the freedom to make any shape you want. As long as you are able to make a mold, you can change the type of fibers, type of resins. And yeah, I've always looked at the structures we have in nature, the trunk of a tree, the human skeleton, as extremely efficient and smart, the structures that that have come from millennia of evolution. And when I look at composites, because of all of these degrees of freedom that I mentioned, composites have an enormous potential to create the structures that are as efficient and effective as the structures that we see in nature. And for me, that's, that's really great. That's very inspirational for an engineer. And, and that has been really part of my thinking throughout my time in the industry, you know, being able to really extract this unbelievable potential compiler technology.
JS: So you said it can be exciting, I think it can also be a little intimidating at times to can't it?
CLF: It absolutely can. And I do believe that this the level of complexity of composites can be a drag if it is not handled properly. However, I will also tell you that today we have at our disposal an incredible amount of computational power that we didn't have when I was at university in the early 90s. Now componential computational power has grown incredibly. And I believe that taking this computational power, together with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and all the progress that has been made in this area, can really allow us to make sense out of this complexity. That's really where these new digital technologies can create value. Making sense of this complexity and allowing us to, you know, dramatically move away from black metal, and really be able to model, be able to define with complexity and actually leverage it rather than be afraid of it.
JS: I know you started in R&D and product development. And of course, now you're the president of Solvay Composite Materials. And that's quite a change for you. And I'm wondering if 20 years ago, I told you that in 2020 you'd be president of Solvay Composite Materials, what do you think your reaction would have been? And also, I wonder how would you compare your work now to the work you did in R&D when you when you first started in this environment with the Cytec/Solvay organization?
CLF: Yeah, if you had told me that, I probably would have laughed at you and said that that was beyond the dream. I started in this business as an intern in 1998. And I stayed in the business throughout a couple of acquisitions. As I grew up as a child, I was I was absolutely fascinated by space travel, you know, particularly the Space Shuttle. And when I was when I was a child, I made countless drawings of the Space Shuttle with its boosters and the vehicle. And when I joined this business, just being able to meet and talk to the people in our company who enabled that program by developing a material for the boosters, the material to allow space re-entry through the atmosphere, was truly a childhood dream come true. I was very humbled and very excited to just work alongside them, and being able to learn from them was an absolute dream. So, honestly I couldn't ask for more. So, thinking that one day I could have the fortune of leading these incredibly smart men and women that we have in our business, would have never been in my mind. I will also go to the second part of your question. You know, throughout my career, I've never really been motivated by job title, or hour, on money. And I actually believe that deeply inside that that's true for most people. I've always been motivated by getting the best out of people, and helping our customers who are trying to achieve incredibly difficult missions to accomplish their missions. So when I when I look at the work that I do today, this is in a way very similar to what I did many years ago, when I started. In a way that the common denominator is still the same — it is to leverage the power of people to develop technology that can solve very difficult problems in uncharted territories. Now that has stayed the same. There is something that has changed and when I look at the job that I do, and that's something that, you know, I had the fortune to have a mentor share with me very early in my career, and I have a lot to owe to that person. The gentleman is called Mike Molyneux, who was actually the president of this business back when I started in '98. And Mike just asking in a very cheeky question from me as a as a young intern about what he did every day. He said most of his day was really spent on people matters. That was very enlightening at the time, and it's something that has proven true. You know, when I when I look at what I do today, yes, I have tasks, I do make decisions. But at the end of the day, really a very large part of my time is spent on people. Whenever we have a new project that we start, the very first thing that I think to do is not even the objective, or the schedule, it's the people that are going to be on that project. People come to me often with questions with inputs, pushbacks, and I do dedicate a lot of time for that. So that's what has changed for me: A lot less time spent on tasks and actions, and even decisions, and a lot more time spent on people. I'm very grateful to my mentor that has given me that path earlier, so I could see and appreciate the importance of that.
JS: So when you talk about managing people, I assume you talk about a new project or a new program, and then you think about the people who might be involved, I assume that means you're trying to think about which people within your organization would be best suited for certain tasks depending upon what the project or the program requires. And that must require a fair amount of understanding on your part about strengths of certain individuals, weaknesses, interests, what they like to do what they don't like to do. And at the same time, you want to challenge people to get outside, maybe get outside their comfort zone and do something they haven't done in the past. I'm wondering if all that factors in or how do you think about that when you think about managing people?
CLF: Yeah, so I'll share a few thoughts. The first point is, I gave the example of a project, but I think about people in many other areas that are not just project starting with all the people who are actually working in our factories and making every day the products that we deliver to our customers. But back to your point, I have a one one simple belief that your knowledge matters a lot less than your your attitude and your behaviors. And what what this means is that, at the end of the day, whenever we have people that have demonstrated the right behaviors, the right attitude, the right leadership, I think we can put these people on almost every project. Yes, I'm a technical guy, technical knowledge is required if you need to drive a technical problem program, but I believe strongly in the ability to stretch people that have provided the ability and demonstrated the behaviors that are needed for success. You know, there are people who are in my team from time to time, when we have a discussion in an executive team about adding someone who is considered as relatively inexperienced and put that person in a stretch roll. And sometimes I would hear comments, ‘Hey, that person is green. He or she is not experienced.’ My response has always been you know, I'm really glad that, you know, we were not in the room when decisions were made about our careers in the past. I've had leaders who have given me a chance when I wasn't really prepared or didn't have the credentials to be given that chance. And I absolutely believe that there is great value in giving people a chance or stretching people. Now, in the majority of cases where we have stretched people, these people have delivered and they have over delivered.
JS: You mentioned attitude and work habits as important to you and winning if you could just give me a couple examples of attitudes or habits that you think are particularly valuable.
CLF: I think what's valuable for me is being aware that no one has all the answers. We can rely on the collective wisdom of people around us for getting better answers. Now that's something that takes time and effort to realize, especially technical people — engineers or scientists — who kind of dare to provide answers. So, sometimes in a meeting that you don't have the answers is very bad for our for our ego. Right, the reality is that what I've learned throughout the years is that I don't have always the answer. And two, I will always have better answers when I can rely on the wisdom of people around me. So that has taken me some time to learn. Yeah, but I think is it something that it's is absolutely critical to a leadership role?
JS: Let's talk a little bit more about Solvay in particular. You know, in the composites industry, there are a few companies like Solvay supplying carbon fiber, thermosetting resins, thermoplastic resins, prepregs, adhesives, kit and materials, and, of course, much more, and serves all the major end markets that are served by the composites industry. I'm wondering what do you think are the strengths of the company and its position in the composite supply chain? And maybe even more importantly, what do you think are areas that need to be better developed or matured?
CLF: Yeah, Jeff, great, great question. I think as you're saying, our strength is that we must serve a very unique, very broad set of technologies, you know, spanning chemistries, processes and performance. Almost every chemistry you can think of — BMI, epoxy, phenolic, benzoxazines, we have thermoplastic, composite textiles, adhesives, primers, auxiliary material. Now, that's a strength. Because it allows us to be material agnostic, as it pertains to replacing metal that really is our ultimate mission. What makes these strengths really valuable is that we have a strong expertise in what I call application engineering. And by application engineering, specific to composites, I mean the ability to bring together design, materials and processes to address a problem and create a structure. I'm probably not going say something new to the composites community, but the simple fact of composites is you build the material as you build part, means that there is a very intimate link between these three components — design, materials and process — and the ability to concurrently develop the material and the ability to make design speak to stress, speak to manufacturing, speak to materials is key to the success of a project. And so that I think is a very big strengths Solvay. Now, areas that we need to be develop and mature better. There are of course, a few. I will I will highlight one. I believe what we need to do, and I think the industry as a whole needs to do, is to strike the right balance between customization/tailoring and industrialization. When we started we wanted to solve a lot of different problems. And the answer was often a lot of customization. Now for composites, to continue to be allowed, and continue to replace the metals beyond the markets where we are in today, it is really important to be able to do industrialization and industrialization means many things. It means the way we run our assets, the level of automation, the level of quality control that we can add for our products, and the ability to be proactive, rather than reactive, you know, build the quality in versus inspecting quality out. That's where we are driving. So industrialization is really the name of the game for us.
JS: We'll talk about this more in a few minutes, but you mentioned trying to be proactive in building quality in and when I hear that, it reminds me more of the automotive supply chain, which is famous for using process control, good process control, to govern and regulate quality. And that's that's an idea that's somewhat foreign — I'd say mostly foreign — to most composites fabricators. And I'm wondering, is that a fair summary of what we're talking about? And if so, how difficult do you think that is to achieve in an industry that's so dependent on inspection to verify quality?
CLF: Yeah, first of all, I think just your your assessment is right.
How difficult is it going to be? I believe that there are some cultural barriers in our industry to get to that point. But I also believe we need to. I don't believe that, in the long run, we can be sustainable without without thinking that way. You know, when I when I look at the industry I know best, that is the aerospace industry, then I look at some of the challenges that the whole industry as in terms of quality and delivery. These are challenges that you can you can read in the news. That's maybe OK for an industry that wants to stay small. But if you think your industry should expand and grow and benefit more and more people, we will have challenges that we all need to address. One of the first decision I took when I when I took the job, in 2017, was to appoint a head of quality in our business and to bring someone who would not look at quality in compliance terms, you know keep a certificate on a wall or meet meet basic requirements, but really look at quality in a transformational way. And, again, be able to leverage all the tools we have available today in terms of statistical process control. We have a complex set up. We operate in a complex industry. We live in an industry that doesn't always welcome change. I've seen that some of our largest customers and embrace these principles as well. And I'm very convinced that's the way to go for us.
JS: All right. You mentioned aerospace. I'd like to talk about that now a little bit. You know, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, I think it's fair to say the composites industry had been gearing up for at least one new major aircraft program that would have consumed a great deal of carbon fiber and resins, both thermoplastic and thermoset. Now, however, with a pandemic, and air travel significantly depressed, the timeline for a new aircraft program has, at the very least, been pushed back several years. As you look at commercial air travel in general and the role that composites play in aerostructures manufacturing in particular, I'm wondering, how do you see the next few years playing out? And what do you think the composites industry should realistically expect from from the big OEMs like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, and a few others.
CLF: I've lived in my career through three aerospace downturns. This is the fourth and is clearly the sharpest, by far. And he's a very different one. So there is no doubt that we are we are in a clear crisis. So what what should we expect? You made a statement that the timeline for a new aircraft program has been pushed out several years. That's probably the consensus today. I would just wait a few months and see if that consensus is true. I do believe that there are new needs that are emerging. And there are also some some technologies that have been rapidly accelerating. I would watch this space. And maybe you know, what, if we talk in a year’s time, we'll have a different discussion about what's on the horizon? When I do suspect is that there is a clear acceleration of propulsion technologies that will support sustainability. And that includes new hybrid electric, electric, hydrogen and fuel cells. And why? I think that this pandemic has done a few things, maybe a couple things that I will highlight. While it does put a new program to an abrupt halt, and that makes all of us wonder do some of the horizon-free technologies be ready faster and can they be ready, faster, and therefore intersect a new aircraft problem. And then I think the second interesting effect of the pandemic has been that sustainability has become more important for a few reasons. One is we have heard, we have seen a bit of the power of nature through this virus. And we have seen that some of the fears that people are about, you know, pandemic actually materialize. And I believe that means as well that people now are starting to see that another threat that we have, that is global warming, is actually a real threat. It is happening, it can happen. And we all need to do our part. I'm very proud of Solvay to work for a company that has put sustainability right front and center. Part of our incentives, a part of our objectives part of our culture in a way that is not just as long list. It actually translates into the way we allocate our resources. And I believe that the aerospace industry is now heading seriously in that direction. Obviously, Airbus has just announced their ZEROe initiative. And that's something that shows a serious intent to do something different. So this phase of propulsion, and innovation, we will see in propulsion, there's going to be a very, very interesting area. And back to composites, I actually believe that it will be an area where composites can play a role. Perhaps we can talk about this a bit later.
JS: Yeah, and just clarify for our listeners, the ZEROe program that that you mentioned is Airbus's program they announced in mid-September to develop aircraft that are that are fueled by hydrogen. So we're talking about hydrogen burning technology. And Airbus announced three conceptual aircraft that would use hydrogen to propel aircraft. And of course, yeah, there is great potential for composites use there, especially since Airbus is talking about liquid hydrogen, which must be kept at cryo temperatures. And that introduces a host of technical challenges, which I'm sure we are going to hear a lot about in the next few months and years. And as a quick follow-up question to that, Airbus said they want this technology in place for entry into service by 2035. That's 15 years from now, which seems like a long time, but in the commercial aerospace world, that's not. And I'm wondering how you feel about that? Do you feel like it's too aggressive? Or is it seem feasible? Or we'll see.
CLF: I don't have all the knowledge required to say whether that's too conservative or too aggressive. What I do believe is that we as an industry will go through a roadmap for sustainable propulsion, thinking that the roadmap is going to start and it’s already starting with hybrid-electric and will move to electric propulsion. Then we will go to hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cell. And I don't really know how it will proceed, whether there will be some sequential or some concurrent path. But I do believe that ultimately, these technologies have potential. Planes have been burning fossil fuel since since the beginning of the Jet Age and aerospace in general. And I believe the time is ripe for these types of technologies. So I welcome the push that companies out there making. Most aircraft OEMs and engine manufacturers push them. And again, I believe that there will be a lot of problems to solve, of course. Now you mentioned the problem about hydrogen storage and the whole infrastructure required and the ecosystem needed for that. There will be many other problems that need to be solved. But that's what we're here for. That's what the science and technology are for. And I can tell you that hydrogen and electric have been in our roadmap for a while. So, we as a group, Solvay, as a business in composite materials, already been given a lot of thought to what we can do with our technologies to solve the problems that we will unavoidably. I am generally an optimist. And I'm always an optimist when science and technology can provide a solution to humanity's problems. I don't have all the science and knowledge required in my head in a scientific way, but I am optimistic, and I'm confident that we can move very effectively along this path.
JS: We'll talk a little bit about the aerospace supply chain. It seems to me that Tier 2 and Tier 3 fabricators in the aerocomposites supply chain might be particularly vulnerable in the wake of the pandemic. Given Solvay's place in the supply chain, I assume you have some decent visibility into how this might play out or how this is playing out. I'm just wondering what your assessment is of the health of the supply chain and how it might be affected over the next five or so years.
CLF: I would say that this fact of the supply chain was was already in a challenging situation before the pandemic, and I think that the pandemic is making making things difficult. Very difficult. There is no doubt about that. I don't have a great crystal ball, but my belief is that we will see consolidation in this area. There are already some active M&A deals out there. I also believe we will see consolidation not just at the M&A level, but also as it pertains to the footprint and assets of the different players. Because obviously, you know, having a fragment and then disperse the footprint creates a significant fixed costs. And that becomes a part of that anatomy to live with when you have when you have a downturn. I would like to make a couple of other points. One is that a lot of the Tier 2 and Tier 3s in the industry have a lot of important competencies, and these competencies are needed. They're needed for commercial aerospace, they're very much needed for our defense industrial base, particularly here in the U.S. And it's important that those competencies are preserved. The second point I would like to make is that our belief that the ultimate success of any aerostructures manufacturer, whether it is a Tier 1, 2 or 3, is not necessarily tied to scale. But it’s actually tied to the ability to differentiate and innovate on automation, on digital, and of course, on materials and processes. I think we we have seen very clearly that transferring work to lower cost country as a nice finding in the short term, but is clearly not sustainable. Ultimately, what the industry needs to do is make some step changes to the production system. And what this means for us at Solvay is that we have a strong conviction that we need to continue to develop material technologies that can enable a production system upgrade through automation and through lean manufacturing. We have launched over the years a lot of technologies in the areas of resin infusion, press forming, out-of-autoclave thermoplastic manufacturing, structural bonding. I have a strong belief that that materials are key to the upgrade of the production system. And I believe that the fabricators that are able to see that will be the ones who will be very successful in the future. Maybe one last point to make is, at the time of downturn, there is clearly an opportunity for the industry and the supply chain to look at adjacencies. As I said, this industry has a lot of competencies. There are not too many companies in the world that know how to make parts, complex parts, highly loaded parts out of composites. And I believe these competencies can be leveraged in new markets. We've seen some examples of that, you know, just one example that comes to my mind is Spirit AeroSystems working on Hyperloop. But it can be added. So I believe these companies should absolutely try and leverage their expertise and use it as an opportunity to explore diversification outside of aerospace and defense.
JS: You mentioned competencies. And I want to follow up on that real quick.
Because I think you're right. I think even if you were a Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier who maybe is vulnerable right now, it's it's entirely possible that you have some tactical advantage or competencies that make your place in the supply chain particularly important, and you said those should be preserved. I'm wondering how that preservation might take place or how do you see that happening?
CLF: It's not easy, obviously, to do that in the current environment. I have a couple of thoughts. One, I do believe that governments can and should help. And what I mean is not by handing any company subsidies. That's not what we what we need as an industry. But I believe that what government could do is make sure that they selectively support the ability to maintain and develop some of those key competencies. And I believe government needs some education on what those key competencies are. But I think this is where public money will be very well spent. And then, in addition to that, I believe, we are all in a situation where we have probably less dollars to invest than we had in the past. Because of course, you know, the future cash flow for the next few years are not what we expected. And I believe it’s important that we make the right choice. And that's true for the aerostructures manufacturer. And it's true for us. And by making the right choice is a means to ensure that we continue to invest on the competencies that make sense, and continue to hire the people that have competencies that we are going to need in four or five years. And you know, he's better than me, this is a long-term industry. And if we take too much of a short-term approach, we are going to lose. So we need to continuously remind ourselves we are in this for the long haul. And we are in business because we are able to create value through innovation. I think that's what I would offer.
JS: You mentioned thermoplastics a few minutes ago; I want to talk about that next. Solvay is aggressively developing thermoplastic solutions for a lot of applications, but next-generation aerostructures in particular, I know, are important. However, thermoplastics use and large structures is still relatively new, or it's a novel concept. These materials still need to be tested and qualified. I know some of that's going on right now. What can you tell us about how you see qualification proceeding for thermoplastics use in large aerostructures?
CLF: You know, thermoplastic composites have been qualified and have been flying for a couple of decades. And there are customers out there who have ambitious plans to increase adoption of thermoplastic composites in aerospace. And we are we are qualified in a lot of those applications. Now, we have not seen very large-scale adoption of thermoplastic composites. And part of the reason is that in the past that supply chain was not was not ready. Today, I believe that the scale, most raw material and the price is there. And there are more companies that have learned and made the investment on what is needed to use thermoplastic composites. I believe there is work to do. I look at the work work to do in the areas of fully exploiting some of the advantages and thermoplastics. Now, one example that comes to mind is welding. Now if we are able to certify thermoplastic welded structure, this will be a huge enabler, because it will open up the ability to use thermoplastics on large primary structure. So that's something that needs work and needs to be done. Ultimately, I believe that the industry will continue to be interested in thermoplastics because they are an enabler for both affordability and rate. I think it's fair to say that just because of the slowdown of the industry, and therefore the limited availability of new programs, this adoption will slow down. That's just a natural effect of not having too many new problems. Retrofitting into existing programs is not always too easy. But I think we can get the drivers will be there. We need the we need to continue to develop the needed technologies, whether it is in-situ consolidation, welding, new polymers that enable new processes, we all need to continue to develop that. And lastly, something I've seen over the years and is a consistent lesson, when I spoke about as being material agnostic. It's very important that the when a technology is selected that whoever selects that technology keeps a very open eye. And technology is not selected because of fashion or because of what height at the moment, because it actually provides a better balance of cost and performance, and ability to meet rate that is ultimately what we care about. So the trap we all need to avoid adopting technologies for the wrong application. This is a sure way to, you know, create frustration and really not capture the value of these new technologies.
JS: I think what you mean is that we wouldn't adopt a technology for the sake of adopting a technology if it's not a good fit. My perception is that the airlines themselves, who are the customers of Boeing and Airbus, seem to favor composites. I don't know if they favor them so much that it makes composites inevitable for all major aerostructures and all aircraft in the future. But I do wonder if you have any thoughts about how customer preference influences decision making, when it comes to aircraft development?
CLF: I have a single view on this. I think only an airline cares about
not accumulating cost and maintenance costs and passenger comfort.
Any any preference is not driven by just liking one material over the other. But it's driven by the ability of OEMs to leverage these technologies to address these needs. Now composites have been able to address these needs, you know, the use of composites on commercial aircraft, the fuselage, a wing, has contributed to reduce fuel cost and or reduce maintenance costs by extending the intervals of maintenance and improving passenger comfort in terms of humidity and pressure inside the plane. So ultimately, that's why airlines are kind of welcome composites because they have solved the problems they have. I talk to airline executives quite a bit, and as you would expect, I don't think there is a particular preference for one versus another material. The clear preference is to buy a plane that consumes less fuel, doesn’t have very high maintenance costs and has an acquisition cost that is affordable to the airline. Composites are great that will help with that.
JS: I would like to turn out to the automotive industry. I think the automotive automotive has always been the composites industry’s Holy Grail. While composites use in high-volume vehicles is slowly increasing, I think it's fair to say that the pace of conversion of automotive parts to composites is probably proceeding more slowly than the industry would like. Automotive OEMs typically point to material cost and cycle time as barriers. I'm wondering if you still think that's a fair assessment of composites placed on the automotive industry? And do we need to adjust our expectations of of the automotive industry in terms of its adoption of composite materials?
CLF: Yeah, first of all I would say that they are proceeding more slowly than the industry would like. That's very true. But the speed at which these progress does not really surprised me, and this is my personal perspective on that. I believe that if the automotive industry looks at composites purely for lightweighting, the ability of composites to be adopted will be limited. It's a very basic and obvious fact that, you know, saving 1 kilogram on a plane will always be a lot more compelling than saving 1 kilogram in a car. So, I believe that what the automotive industry needs to do is to really think about composites and their benefits beyond lightweighting. There are many other advantages that composites allow. That is flexibility in design, that is function integration, that is corrosion resistance. Now, even in aerospace, I can give you a few examples where the primary reason for using composites has not been weight, it has been something else. So I believe that the industry, the automotive industry needs to embrace that. And we as a composite community need to continue educating the automotive industry. And I think, anytime we go and try to promote composites purely because they are lighter than steel, or aluminum, we are unlikely to win the trades. It's pretty hard to win, especially for people who already have sound costs in terms of infrastructure and people expertise. So that I believe is the key.
JS: All right, so I'm going ask you the same customer question I asked you about aerospace. I should say my my opinion is that the the car-buying public — the customers of the auto dealers who are are buying vehicles — don't ultimately don't really care what materials were used to fabricate their car. And they probably don't care that one car weighs more or less than another car. And I'm wondering if you think that's a consideration that we need to think about? Or does the decision-making not trickle down into the supply chain from the customer that way?
CLF: No, I think Jeff said you said very wisely. Ultimately, I think that the people who buy a car, I'd say 99% of them do not really care about what material the car is made off. I actually suspect if you did a survey and asked people on the street what materials their cars were made of, they probably wouldn't be able to answer. I don't think that's a driver. I believe the driver is, again, how much your car cost, how comfortable it is, what are the aesthetics. It is true that there is a segment of the market that looks for super luxury and high luxury element where the customer may be willing to pay more to have composite interiors on a car or composite hood.. But that's a small part of the market. The big part of the market ultimately cares about what what I just described. And so we as an industry need to recognize that. We need to earn our way into applications. People are not just going buy a car because it uses composites. And we don't have that entitlement, we need to create value.
JS: And how does how does all of this apply to the hybrid-electric and all-electric automotive market? What is Solvay's thinking on that and is there a better case to be made for composites use an EVs or are we talking about similar metrics and similar drivers?
CLF: I would say that in case where you actually are developing a new platform that requires a new infrastructure and new design and new challenges, that opens up a new opportunity for composites because there is no inertia and no need to maintain some of the previous paradigm, so that makes the ground a little bit more fertile for a new material technology. Again, that technology still needs to earn its right to be used. From a Solvay
perspective, what I would say is that we are very excited about the drive for electrification and hydrogen. Beyond composites, Solvay has a number of technologies that can be used in batteries, fuel cells, and on containment structures for those. I do believe that there will be a good ability for us that way. I mean, of course, is, is clear that, you know, none of this will happen overnight. But we need to create an ecosystem, certainly for hydrogen, but we are very excited, and I know for sure our customers are very excited about some of these technologies and any problems we can solve.
JS: I want to circle back to something you mentioned very early on, you were talking about designed freedom and industrialization. And you mentioned the variety of resin and fiber types available, and different processing types. And you could throw in tooling types as well. A designer and a fabricator has lots of options to solve manufacturing problems or challenges. This is sort of the advantage of the material that has brought us to this point. But you also mentioned the need for industrialization. And some people say call it standardization. And I'm wondering where you see the industry on this path to industrialization? And what are the technologies, either materials or processes, that you think will enable this this migration toward greater industrialization and standardization?
CLF: So it's a long answer, but I will try and give you some of the highlights. I think if we start from 60,000-feet level, like I hinted before, something that will enable this is the ability to really use all the tools that computational power increases and has now enabled. You know, I'm not going to use the buzzword of digital, because I think that word is being terribly abused, particularly by consultants. I just want to think if the power of AI and machine learning, particularly deep learning. So, you know, the ability to take data that is unstructured and make sense out of it as a huge enabler. Now, I actually believe that by being an industry that is so inherently complex, we will take a lot more advantage than other industries from advances in this area. I mean, this is something overarching that can help with over the industrialization. Now, if I go down at 30,000-feet level, my view is what I said to before. I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity to improve processes. By improving processes, I mean making processes that are leaner than what we have today, processes where a structure doesn't move 20 times in the factory, you can have a more of a single-part flow; processes where you don't need fancy tools or expensive capex to make the parts and processes where takt time can be a shorter than it is today. Now, obviously, I come from a big long bias perspective, being in a material business. But I firmly believe that composite materials technology can enable these processes. And they can generally enable the ability of out-of-autoclave to potentially eliminate a monument in the middle of a factory. Take the ability of technologies like the Double Diaphragm Forming technology that we developed internally and launched several months ago, to reduce the takt time to just a few minutes. So my simple view on this is, let's make sure we use all the computational tools that we are so fortunate to have and that I didn't have when I was in university 25 years ago. And, and then let's continue to use the
materials to enable processes.
JS: Alright, and so my final question for you, Carmelo, is a simple one. What keeps you up at night? What what are your concerns about either Solvay or the industry that consume your thoughts in your idle moments?
CLF: So I don't know if I have the answer you're looking for, but let me try. I actually sleep better at night than I used to earlier in my career. I think one of the reasons is that I felt that my job as a leader was to be ever active, ever worried, and have a lot of reasons to stay up at night. And you know, don't get me wrong, I am still worried and I still have concerns. But I've actually learned that if I manage to keep calm and steady mind, I do a better job at addressing concerns than being perpetually worried. I will not give you something that keeps me up at night in the frame of Solvay or even the industry, I will share something that keeps me up at night in general. As a father, and as someone who is a natural optimist, and is actually about education, and our education is today probably undervalued compared to what it was in the past. You know, I believe that education is what will help all of us be in a better future. Education is what we need to inspire and motivate the young people today. And now I have a very simple belief that leadership education happens in a family and business and science education happen in schools. So what keeps me up at night is that both family and schools maybe have a little bit forgotten the importance of education. And you know if I can link it to our industry, so I try at least to a little bit answer your question. Now our industry is based on science and technology. And I strongly believe that the whole education system needs to do a better job of developing young people who are excited and are competent about science and technology. And I of course believe that basic leadership education, know how you can be a leader and inspiring people around you and lead people to a better place, is key. Again, I have the belief that that's an education that that has to happen in family. So, maybe I'm giving you a bit more of a philosophical answer than you were looking for. But that's ultimately what I will call keeping me up at night.
JS: You mentioned that you feel like education is not valued the way it used to be. I imagine you have some thoughts about why that is. Do you feel like this is a cultural problem? Is this a political problem? Maybe it's a little bit of both. How do you what do you see as the root of this problem that you see?
CLF: I think it is a little bit of both. It will look like now I'm speaking out of both sides of my mouth. I spent a lot of the time and during our discussion
talking about the benefits of computational powers and what it today is called technology. I actually do believe that has been a bit of a double-edged sword. I believe that we as a society are relying a little bit too much on technology to address the basic needs that family and school need to provide. I still believe in the value of formal education that comes from a book and education from the family. And I believe that the world of, you know, apps, technology, tools, and proliferation of devices and cell phone, has not always been used to our advantage. And I also believe that governments overall are not placing the right importance on STEM education. You know, thinking about developing people afterwards, when they are in the workforce, is very late. It's not a sustainable way to to develop or to develop people. So I believe we all need a bit of a wake up call is area.
JS: I want to bring this back to something you said earlier. You mentioned the fact that you look for in employees good work habits — you know, curiosity and interest — that probably drive innovation and creativity, which is a value to you and Solvay. I'm wondering if traditional education, pursued over time by students, develops some of those characteristics and habits that you value? And I wonder if that's part of what you see going on as well?
CLF: Yeah, I think it is. I believe that it was ultimately — and it's been a long time since I was, was a child myself — I believe that children are inherently extremely curious, children are extremely excited by exploring and by solving problems. And you know, ultimately that can be very happy. Every single day I've worked in this business has been the ability to do that, so what I really would like is that we help our children discover or rediscover that. Be excited about seeing a spaceship going to the moon, being excited about the engine of a fighter jet, being excited about having a plane that you can pilot from your room. So that's something that I believe will provide inspiration. And I think it is our job to inspire the younger generation and have them understand that, you know, ultimately, the answer in addressing humanity's problem is going to be through science and technology. Nothing else.
JS: All right, Carmelo. Well, I appreciate your time today. This has been a great conversation. And I want to thank you for joining me here on CW Talks.
CLF: Thank you Jeff. I have enjoyed very much our discussion and it's been a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me. Thank you.
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