IACMI Road Mapping: Advanced Composite Future Offers Opportunities and Challenges for Adhesives

Posted on 6/16/2016 12:50:25 PM By Marc Benevento

On May 10-11, I participated in the 2nd technical road mapping session for the Institute for Advanced Composite Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). It was a great chance to provide input based on my industrial experience, as well as to gain perspective about how adhesives are perceived by members of the composites, automotive, and academic communities.  Participation also afforded a glimpse into possible futures for the advanced composites industry in order to understand how that might impact adhesive suppliers.  I left with the feeling that this is a time of great change and opportunity for composites and adhesives industries in the automotive industry.  If his opportunity is to be realized, the time to take action is now.

IACMI is part of the national network for manufacturing innovation (NNMI), a public-private partnership formed with the goal of improving America’s global manufacturing competitiveness and creating high quality manufacturing jobs in the United States. IACMI intends to expand applications of advanced composites in vehicles, wind energy, and compressed natural gas storage by significantly reducing the cost and environmental footprint of parts made from carbon fiber reinforced composites. 

The goal of IACMI’s second road mapping session was to identify stakeholder priorities and outline research activities that will help achieve IACMI’s ten-year goals, which are:

  • 50% reduction in carbon fiber reinforced polymer cost
  • 75% reduction of carbon fiber reinforced polymer embodied energy
  • 95% composite recyclability into usable goods

The road mapping session was a two day event that allowed participants to provide input into one application area (ground vehicles, wind energy, or compressed natural gas) and address industry challenges previously identified by IACMI.  The technical challenges to the adoption of composite materials included methods for joining multi-material structures, composite crashworthiness and repair, and standardization and certification of materials..  Although the formal summary from IACMI is not expected for a few months, I will share my perspective and what I learned from my fellow participants, which included representatives of automotive and truck OEMs, suppliers, material manufacturers, and members of the academic and research communities.

Given ASC’s effort to grow adhesives in transportation, I participated in the ground vehicle and multi-material joining sessions.  During formal and informal discussions with fellow participants, the top adhesive-related themes and trends were a:

  • General consensus that adhesives are the default solution for joining composites to similar or dissimilar materials
  • Sentiment amongst some participants who felt that other joining methods were routinely overlooked and deserved more attention, particularly for joining thermoplastic composites.
  • Broadly-shared opinion that existing information on best practices for composite joining techniques and design is vastly underutilized, and is a resource that could be tapped to accelerate the use of composites and adhesives.
  • Discussion regarding the ability of thermoset composites to achieve goals for cost, cycle time, and recyclability in light vehicles.  It was suggested that significant advances in thermoplastic-based composites may be required to meet these goals
  • Prevailing opinion that vehicle design must be “re-imagined” in order to develop systems and parts that take full advantage of the benefits of composites and adhesives.  Designs derived from platforms and manufacturing infrastructure rooted in metals are sub-optimal for composites.

What does all this mean for the adhesives industry?  In this writer’s opinion, it means threats and challenges that must be addressed in order to capitalize on a growth opportunity.

There is a clear growth opportunity associated with the fact that adhesives are viewed as the first option when it comes to bonding composites.  Efforts to grow the composites industry should help grow the market for adhesives and sealants proportionally.  This is fertile ground for adhesive and sealant industry growth, and collaborative efforts between the adhesives and composites industries should be identified that will benefit both.

Multiple threats to adhesives and sealants would arise if a shift from thermoset to thermoplastic composites were to take place.  Although adhesives are preferred solution for structural bonding of thermoset composites, adhesive bonding of thermoplastics is often more difficult.  Furthermore, techniques such as vibrational welding can be used to join thermoplastics, which mimic processes automakers use on metal substrates.  Should this market shift occur, the adhesives industry will need to be prepared, or else risk the loss of market share to other joining techniques.

Finally, there is a challenge for suppliers of composites and adhesives to bridge the gap in education and training by sharing design practices that demonstrate the most efficient and effective use of their products.  The automotive design process is typically evolutionary, with new designs based on prior models constructed of metal and produced within the existing metal-centric manufacturing infrastructure.  Inertia of the industry is keeping it on this path, and an outside force will have to act on this system in order for it to revolutionary change to occur.

The IACMI road mapping session revealed clear opportunities, threats, and challenges for adhesive manufacturers associated with a possible shift to low cost, high volume production of carbon fiber reinforced composites in the automotive industry.   Although the future is uncertain, now is the time to act in order to turn this opportunity into reality.