Composite Materials a Common Thread in Aerospace, Automotive Industries

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Chomarat North America President Brian Laufenberg speaks about the company’s Anderson County plant production capabilities and materials innovation during the Composites Suppliers Meetings South Carolina.

By Jacob Hickman, director of business recruitment, Upstate SC Alliance

Lighter. Stronger. Faster.

Did your mind immediately jump to your exercise mantra? It’s a natural progression of thought.

Just as increasing our agility, speed, and strength may define our personal fitness goals, many manufacturers today are looking to decrease the weight and production time of their products while increasing load-bearing capacities and extending shelf lives.

It’s a shared goal in the aerospace and automotive industries, especially as they face regulatory challenges on one end (think: fuel and emissions standards) and global competition on another (think: price margins).

With these business needs in mind, 100 companies from six countries attended the Composites Suppliers Meetings South Carolina event earlier this month. The business-to-business event connected composite manufacturers and users from industries such as automotive, aerospace, defense, and renewable energy.

The event was the first of its kind for our state, and our region was selected with recognition of our proximity to an established supply chain that’s already serving automotive and aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Within the Upstate alone, the advanced materials cluster includes 883 businesses and 40,380 employees – that’s 84 percent higher than the national average.

Companies within our region, and their talented engineers, are developing and producing materials that solve industry challenges for some of the world’s most complex products – innovations now found in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to BMW’s X models.

For the major companies that participated – BMW, Toray, and Lockheed Martin – the event offered a chance to explore technical capabilities with a number of suppliers. For the suppliers, it offered insights into how they can work with OEMs to explore challenges and provide solutions.

The event came together thanks to Upstate SC Alliance’s partnerships with advanced business events (abe), the S.C. Department of Commerce, BMW, and Toray.

As a testament to how composites cross industry lines, day one of the event began with presentations coordinated by Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and the University of South Carolina’s Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research.

Speakers included a mix of academic researchers and industry representatives, such as Brian Laufenberg, president of Chomarat North America in Anderson County.

Laufenberg spoke about how the French company founded in 1898 has diversified its business, and how the company’s R&T (research and technology) department is pioneering polymer configurations for optimal performance.

“The message that I’m trying to present here is get out of the box of materials that we’ve designed with for the last 20 years. Unit-directional materials are great, and if you can handle them, they’re really great,” Laufenberg told the crowd. “We have ways to put things together, and it’s not always 0, 90, or plus or minus 45 [degree angles].”

Dr. Srikanth Pilla, an assistant professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University, also presented on the role composite materials are playing in CU-ICAR research and activities. He revealed that the Deep Orange 7 vehicle – which was unveiled Oct. 14 – has the greatest concentration of composite materials among the school’s Deep Orange designs.

With constant evolution and applications across industry sectors, there’s no doubt this industry is poised for growth in our region and beyond.

Upstate Materials by the Numbers:

  • 883 businesses
  • 40,384 employees
  • 84% higher than average industry concentration

Business Growth Highlights:

  • 54 new locations in the last 5 years
  • $3.9 billion in capital investment in the last 5 years
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