I love to see the innovation in composites going on globally. I attended the 2016 Composites and Materials Expo in Anaheim, California, for the first time this year, and what an eye-opening experience it was! As a perpetual student of innovation, I love seeing how companies are pushing the boundaries of what has been done in solving the challenges they see around them. Here are some observations from the show:
#1: Fresh Thinking + Perseverance: Sometimes Innovation Takes a Long Time
Innovation in composites is a combination of fresh thinking applied to a problem and then perseverance to bring those ideas to execution. I met a graduate student at the opening breakfast who was presenting the results of some research done by her and other colleagues from the University of Utah. The research had been started 12 years ago by some other grad students who launched the project, and the definitive results were just now being presented.
Learning: Sometimes, you may not see the culmination of your work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Persevere in your pursuits; you need to trust that your efforts will contribute to the advanced understanding of the collective and that will matter in the long run.
#2: The World is Constantly Changing
The amazing innovation in composites showed me that the world is I know it will probably be vastly different in the very near future. There were three innovators who spoke at the opening session:
- Wunderkind Daniel Preston, CEO of Luminati Aerospace, who talked about the company’s work on high-altitude, long-endurance “pilot-optional” vehicles using solar and wind energy to power the vehicles.
- Gregory Hale, General Manager of Local Motors, a company innovating in automotive manufacturing and already testing driverless mini-buses designed for local city transit.
- Greg Lynn, a professor and architect who is bringing innovation in composites to reimagine living spaces and create never-before-seen interior design elements
The presentation of Gregory Hale spoke to me the most, I think, as he admonished that “the vehicle as we know it must die.” He talked about how the people of his Knoxville, TN, company, Local Cars, are bringing innovation in composites to the automotive world to transform the way we manufacture, sell and think about cars. They are working on micro-manufacturing, shrinking the vehicle development process (both from a time and materials standpoint) with the objective to eliminate the “wasted steel of old cars” — waste coming from Detroit’s huge car lots that are a result of making too much unwanted cookie-cutter inventory upfront and the waste of landfills filled with rusting steel once a car’s useful life is complete.
They are doing the work to bring about a reality where you order your car, it gets built exactly to your specifications using composite materials and when you need to change, you regrind the car down to build your new car from the same materials. While I love the visionary nature of this work and applaud the environmental consciousness, what struck me most was how they had flipped a negative into a positive.
Due to the innovation in composites, we’ve come a long way from the famous investment tip given to the young Dustin Hoffman character in The Graduate to “invest in plastics.” Historically, plastics were considered a threat to the environment. This field has become so much more sophisticated, with innovators using its assets in the most positive way.
#3: Innovation in Composites is Never Ending
Processes are ever advancing and new applications for highly advanced materials are constantly being developed. There is no end to the innovation that can be brought to bear and the CAMx show is a great place to discuss, discover, review and see that Innovation in action. If you are in that industry and do want to be inspired, I would encourage you to sign up fornext year’s CAMx show, which will be held in Orlando, Florida.