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12th September 2016, Germany

A close connection between research and industry

Adrian Wilson talks to Michael Effing, President of the new Composites Germany

Adrian Wilson: Could you say a little about the aims of Composites Germany and the four existing organisations it brings together?

Michael Effing: Composites Germany is a new umbrella organization which aims to promote the extraordinary innovation potential of composites and the position of Germany as the leading supplier country of composite materials throughout the lightweight construction industry – particularly in the field of research. It re-groups four organisations which are the main composite associations in Germany with differing concerns.

These are the VDMA, with its focus on mechanical engineering, CFK Valley and CCeV, both primarily concerned with high performance carbon composites (CFRP) and AVK, the oldest association of the German plastics industry which promotes all composite materials, but especially on glass fibre materials (GFRP). In Composite Germany, common positions and overlapping interests are taken into account and the member organizations keep their independence. In total, Composites Germany is representing 750 companies.

Michael Effing.

AW: How important will lobbying and networking be to Composites Germany?

ME: Composites is a key industry for Germany and the aim of Composite Germany is to build up representation of interests, to develop new markets and new value creation chains, as well as to drive forward education development and training. Each of the four member organizations will hence take on priority tasks within it. CCeV takes the lead in the field of lobbying, CFK-Valley for education, VDMA for sustainability and recycling and AVK for standardisation.

Since these topics are of mutual and general interest and importance, the potential of using composites will be represented in a more efficient way that will hopefully be beneficial to the entire industry when it comes to decisions concerning what materials are chosen for new and long lasting industrial applications. In terms of lobbying – and especially with regards to the future-oriented themes of high performance composites and automated mass production technology – the power of the 750 member companies will be bundled. Composite Germany´s headquarters is in Berlin, in the proximity of political activities and allowing for closer contact with political decision makers and drivers.

AW: What progress do you think will realistically be made in composites substituting for other materials in the automotive industry in the medium term? Where is growth being significantly achieved and with what types of composites?

ME: The automotive industry is cost- and performance driven so that the processes need to be highly automated and cost-efficient, as is the case for high performance SMC (sheet moulding compound) or hybrid moulding which allow for mass production. These are the processes which promise to grow most significantly in my opinion.

AW: How important is advancing automated mass production?

ME: The automotive industry needs reproducible processes for the large scale series production of over 100,000 parts per year. This is only possible with a very high level of automation, as well as with the use of integrated or combined processes, such as injection moulding or pressing.

AW: Thermoplastics are now growing faster than thermosets in Germany. What are the chief reasons for this?

ME: The European composites market was still growing in 2015, on average at 2% for thermosets and at 5 % for thermoplastics, as the AVK reports are indicating. In Germany, the thermoset market grew by 4% and the thermoplastics market by 6% in 2015. I am expecting these figures to be similar in 2016, maybe even with a light upside potential for thermoplastics.

Thermoplastics can be manufactured through extremely efficient and highly automated production processes with very short cycle times, as is the case with injection moulding and LFT (long fibre thermoplastic) which are highly efficient in cost and performance. Thus, thermoplastics are materials which allow for mass production in automotive or other industrial applications. Thermoset production is suitable for the production of bigger parts, but the labour cost is higher than with thermoplastics. This explains why production is increasingly being transferred to countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, as for the production of rotor blades or boat construction.

AW: Has the significance of carbon fibre-based materials been overstated in the automotive field do you think?

ME: We are very pleased to see BMW pioneering with its i3, i8 and now also the 7er, since carbon fibre offers tremendous technical performance in lightweight construction, particularly for high-end applications as in premium or sport cars. However, this is and will remain a niche market, because of the cost pressures. 

Most of the production in automotive is still made in traditional and highly automated manufacturing processes which are based on glass fibres, such as injection moulding, LFT, SMC. These are cheaper in production costs and consequently, the glass fibre market is much larger than that based on carbon fibre. The higher costs for carbon fibre only make financial sense for niche production and this is why the majority in automotive will stay with the traditional use of glass fibre reinforced plastics.

(c) Textechno.

AW: What approaches might composites companies in other countries adopt in order to get closer to the success achieved by those in Germany?

ME: The composites industry overall is a very fragmented market. Companies, particularly suppliers and especially multinationals, are often not only active in composites production but have just one or few business units active in this field and may not see is as their main activity. In Germany, this market is traditionally more dominated by medium-sized companies, especially regarding the Tier 1s and Tier 2s.

The German composites landscape is furthermore based on a close connection between research and industry as is the case for the excellence initiative at Aachen´s AZL where clusters are formed. Academic staff, researchers and students collaborate shoulder to shoulder with employees of innovative industrial companies.

AW: In addition to being the president of Composites Germany, you also have your own consulting firm, AMAC. Can you describe your activities?

ME: I founded AMAC after over 25 years of experience in leading positions in the international composites industry. The company´s business model is based on three pillars – the establishment and development of networking and clusters between universities and industrial companies, training in sales and marketing and the management of industrial projects in the field of innovation and commercialization.

AMAC has various clients and cooperation partners, among them AZL, the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production which I support in developing an international network between research and industry. AMAC supports various other partners in international marketing and business development such as Helm AG, and is a distributor for Jushi, Germany-based Textechno, a manufacturer of testing systems for composite fibres, yarns and rovings, and Swiss-based Gremolith, a manufacturer of composite and castings resins, to name just a few.

AW: Can you explain the role of your company AMAC, in its relationship with Helm AG and China’s Jushi?

ME: The worldwide leading glass fibre producer Jushi expanded out of China, opening its Egyptian plant in 2013, with an actual annual capacity of 160,000 tons and serving the European market from there via its exclusive distributor Helm for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. AMAC supports Helm in marketing, sales and business development.

(c) Jushi.

AW: What is the current status of Jushi’s progress at its plants in Egypt and the USA?

ME: Jushi started its second glass fibre furnace in Suez, Egypt, at the beginning of June 2016 in the context of the global extension of its presence in Europe and North America. The Suez Plant was opened in 2013 with an annual capacity of 80,000 tons.

This is now the second phase with an additional expansion of another 80,000 tons, to be followed by a third and final furnace planned to be installed in 2017, designating the completion of Jushi ́s Egyptian expansion. Jushi has confirmed the groundbreaking for its first site in the USA will take place in Richland, South Carolina, at the end of 2016.

AW: There has previously been opposition to imported glass fibres from China into Europe, and indeed anti-dumping sanctions imposed by the EC against companies including Jushi. Obviously Jushi’s new production will be made in Egypt, but do you think such protectionist measures are now a thing of the past?

ME: The glass fibre market is a global market and the market economy will decide where future production locations will be. I foresee manufacturing across various regions – the Americas, Europe, Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East. The glass fibre reinforcement market has grown over the years at a rate of 5% and requires new capabilities in all the regions. This market will continue to grow, but the trend for Europe will be the orientation to increasingly cost-efficient production locations such as Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

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