Executive Forum: Composites: A Growing Industry
Frédérique Mutel, president and CEO, JEC Group, discusses the Paris-based composites organization and the global composites industry.
Stephen M. Warner, Contributing Editor
Mutel is the recipient of several prestigious awards and honors including the Legion of Honor in 1999 for her contribution to providing opportunities and forums for international exchanges. Her career has included development projects at the U.S. Department of State's Agency for International Development. She has also held positions in the information technology and publishing sectors.
Textile World: Tell us briefly about JEC Group. How is it structured? Who does it represent? What is the scope of the organization? What is its mission?
Mutel: JEC represents, promotes and expands composites markets by providing global or local networking and information services. JEC Group belongs to a nonprofit association created in 1956 that holds the capital. JEC's Board of Directors includes heads of companies from different industry segments. Our philosophy is to serve the composites sector. All of JEC's income is used for the benefit of the industry. JEC aims to be close to the sector and proactive in its proposals.
TW: Can you tell us more about the global composites industry?
Mutel: The global composites market represents 81.6 billion euros (US$108.9 billion) in value and 9.2 million metric tons in volume for 2012. This market is growing at an average of 6 percent per year. In value, the Americas represent 36 percent; Europe, 33 percent; and Asia Pacific, 31 percent. The composites industry is growing in volume in correlation with the increase of gross domestic product by country. In mature economies, composites' positions against other materials are stable or still growing, especially in markets where lightness is strongly required, as in transportation — aero, auto, marine and land. In emerging countries, the composites market is mainly driven by economic growth following the development curve. There, the potential is huge in all sectors.
TW: Tell us about the upcoming JEC Europe Composites Show & Conferences. Will it be of interest to those in the mainstream of the technical textiles industry?
Mutel: With 50,000 square meters, or 530,000 square feet, of floor space — the equivalent of eight soccer fields — the 2013 JEC Europe Composites Show & Conferences will represent the global composites industry and its most recent advances in heavily composite-consuming sectors such as aerospace, aeronautics, shipbuilding, railway, automotive, mass transportation, construction, equipment, and sports and leisure. Twelve key themes will be highlighted during the three-day trade show: Design, Non-Destructive Testing, Robotics, Aeronautics, Automotive, E-car, Wind Power, Carbon, Biocomposites, Thermoplastics, Multifunctional Materials and Environment. Our participants largely represent the upstream of the value chain — for example, fibers and equipment, with many solutions in new fibers, new formulations and new polymers. Producers of fabrics and pregregs alsoare among JEC's main customers.
Frédérique Mutel, president and CEO, JEC Group
TW: Did the recent North America show meet your expectations?
Mutel: There were 306 exhibiting companies — 65 percent from North America and 35 percent from Europe and Asia — and 6,698 attendees, with 4,159 professional visitors from 53 countries and 36 states attending, clearly confirming the interest of the international composites industry in the Americas market. These good results are all the more positive, as the show suffered from many last-minute attendance cancellations due to a major winter storm that hit New England on the second day.
TW: In the future, do you plan to go it alone with JEC Americas or find a colocation partner like you did in 2012 with the Industrial Fabrics Association International? You have already announced dates for 2013 and 2014, both again to be held in Boston. Why do you plan to stay in Boston?
Mutel: JEC has a long tradition of cooperation and networking. Colocation with events that bring additional value to our mutual audience is a good way to enlarge the vision and perception of composites materials. Our first session in Boston was successful and encourages us to reinforce our position in this area close to the academic community, research and development centers and very dynamic states. A good number of our customers are located in the Northeast United States. Canada is also very active in the field of composites.
TW: What new technologies, materials or composite applications do you see coming?
Mutel: Our sector is innovative all along the value chains for both materials and processes. Concerning fibers, innovation has come from an increase in mechanical properties such as fiber stiffness and resistance. Price has also been a path for innovation, as the challenge for raw material suppliers is the development of superior products with the concern of keeping price within a reasonable range. Semi-products and technical fabrics have been a major driver of growth in composite use. Resin manufacturers have explored two major solutions to cope with the issue of styrene. The first is to develop new resins with minimum styrene content. The second is to focus on styrene suppressant additives that limit the emission itself. Concerning fire and smoke toxicity, the challenge has been to develop composite materials that are altogether less flammable; have lower smoke emissions with little toxicity; and can keep reasonable mechanical properties after fire damage. Environmental concern takes a growing importance in the industry. Resins and additives are petrochemical materials that use nonrenewable resources and energy for their production. Over the last decade, major resin and additive manufacturers have developed an eco-friendly range of bioproducts derived from vegetal sources.
For applications that do not require high-resistance materials, natural fibers can be very efficient. They tend to be more and more important in the automobile manufacturing industry — for instance, for nonstructural parts like car interiors.
Finally, a huge amount of innovation is taking place in the field of process and equipment. Soaring development of composites demand has driven the need for higher productivity and industrial pace. As a consequence, there has been a strong need to evolve the composite process, and recent innovations in the field of robotics and automation have come as an appropriate answer to tackle this issue. One-third of our portfolio is now composed of industrialists proposing new equipment, machines or software.
Stephen M. Warner is publisher of BeaverLake6 Report, beaverlake6.com, a Web-based newsletter reporting on trends, data and issues that he feels influence the technical textiles industry. He also is former president and CEO of Industrial Fabrics Association International.