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Outlook remains bright for composites.

If a wide range of quality applications reflects an industry's inventory of materials and processing finesse, then composites are well placed for growth in the coming decade. At the 45th Annual SPI Composites Institute's Conference and Expo '90, held Feb. 12-15 at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., composite one-piece molded passenger car wheels, minivans, satellite antennas, improved underground piping systems, truck beds, and wind turbine blades were but a few examples of emerging composites technology. The spread of technical papers also testified to the solid technological base in which the industry is rooted.

Despite a slight drop last year (see the Table), shipments of composites grew from 1.7 to 2.6 billion lbs from 1980 to 1989. For the approximately 40-year-old composites industry, the steady progress speaks for itself. However, many within the industry contend that the growth rate is still not indicative of the technology's production potential.

Evidently, recent efforts to expand industry's awareness of reinforced plastics and the drive to improve product quality are paying off. For the past 15 years, through its marketing subcommittees, the Composites Institute has aggressively emphasized product development and quality and promoted the education of designers and end-users in the functional and economic performance of composites. It's no accident that the 132 exhibits at Expo '90 reflected a high level of integration of materials, processes, and research.

Given a favorable economy, composites are bound to grow at a faster pace. One important growth area will surely be that of environmental cleanup and protection. Because of their inherent corrosion resistance, composite materials will be obvious choices for equipment and facilities handling treatment of water, hazardous waste, and other corrosive media.

The Product Showcase at Expo'90 was short on sensationalism and long on competence. The industry is now setting its sights more precisely, with a fine-tuned control of material formulations and resin transfer molding, pultrusion, and compression molding. Defect-free surfaces, excellent color uniformity, rigidity or flexibility as needed, and always, strength, are the obvious results of the industry's increasing sophistication.

General Motors' APV van, adding to previous honors, won the conference's 1990 "Counterpoise" Grand Design Award. With its sleek lines facilitated by the use of plastics, and its all-composite exterior panels, the APV is a credit to the composites industry, which contributed material compounds with low-profile additives to reduce waviness; optically inspected tooling to optimize wave-free flatness and surface finish; and the critical reduction of cycle times.

The Du Pont Co.'s bicycle wheel won the Most Innovative Advanced Composite Application Award for its aerodynamic three-spoke design with carbon-fiber-reinforced spokes and rim. A CAD system was used to blend the airfoil shapes, minimize stress concentrations, and establish the preferred fiber orientation throughout the structure.

The Walter A. Szymanski Award, for the best corrosion-resistant product, was given to Nova Group Inc. for its pre-insulated underground thermal distribution piping system. The design features a carrier pipe to which fiberglass sheeting and an outer casing of filament-wound fiberglass and vinyl ester resin are applied.

Cited as dual winners of the Best Overall Paper Award were "Non-MDA Epoxy Resin Systems for Pultrusion," by WV Breitigam and W.P. Ubrich of the Shell Development Co., and Analysis and Optimization of Heater Placement in a Pultrusion Die," by Gibson L. Batch, Univ. of Minnesota.

More than 3600 people attended the Conference and Expo'90.

(Table omitted)
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Title Annotation:Society of Plastics Engineers conference
Author:Wigotsky, V.
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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