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Dr. Andrew Beehag, Commercialisation Manager, Composites CRC-Australia” Government Polices a Boon for Composites Industries in Australia”

The Composites CRC brings research providers and composites businesses together to provide competitive technology for Australian industry. Since its inception in 1991, it has grown to become one of the world's leading composites research organizations. The partnership includes leading composites businesses, government research laboratories and Australia's foremost universities in composites research.

In an exclusive interview Dr. Andrew Beehag, Commercialisation Manager, Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures Ltd shares his experience with Editor, Lucintel, K. Venkateshwar. Rao. Excerpts:

1. What are the key drivers for composites consumption in Australia?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: There are many new markets for composites, which will not only increase consumption of composites to a certain degree, but also open new opportunities for related service industries. Notably, a significant number of these industries are composites users but not directly involved in composites design or manufacture, leaving a potential gap between in-house knowledge and knowledge requirements. Successful interaction and value chain assembly involving service industries, particularly design and engineering analysis, and the materials supply and manufacturing industries can provide strong impetus for end users to begin specifying composites, or to increase their usage.

2. What are some of the key challenges faced by Your Company in the composites market?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: We have excellent profile in the international aerospace industry with a range of technical advances under development, and the aerospace industry has been highly accepting our composites technology. Many of these advances are very relevant to other market sectors. Our challenge is to translate technology into these parallel market sectors, to meet the varied demands of those different markets, and to build their confidence in applying composites and new composites technologies. We also have a strong push to develop and implement environmentally friendly technologies – there is clear demand for increased use of renewable materials, but further development is required in technology, implementation guidelines and industry engagement before widespread adoption will be seen.

3. Tell us about the impact of government policies on composites industry?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: There is good broad support for composites industry development in Australia, at a Federal and State level. At the State level the Queensland Govt has been most notable, and in the past few years has made significant investment through the Fibre Composites Action Plan- an specific initiative dedicated to building the composites industry. The composites industry has received very strong research support in Australia, with significant Federal Government investment in university level research over several decades.

The Australian Government has invested significantly in centre’s such as the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures (CRC-ACS), which has recently been extended for five years. Recent Australian Govt policy has highlighted the need for Australia to engage internationally, and is supporting these initiatives. The future CRC-ACS program engages aerospace and oil & gas multinationals in Australian R&D, as well as continuing its development of composites for the defence industry – these initiatives will make Australia an increasingly attractive place to develop and build next generation composites technology.

4. Key challenges faced by composite end-users in Australia?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: A significant portion of potential users have barriers to adoption which are by no means unique to Australia, two major barriers being composites education and regulatory / standards compliance. Composites are an “engineered material” early education of engineers in the attributes and requirements of composite materials, across a wider range of engineering disciplines, are key to industry realizing the benefits of composites adoption. The existence of standards in key industries (particularly civil construction and building) is a significant barrier, particularly that standards are frequently written with an underlying assumption that a material other than composites will be used. Overcoming this barrier through the drafting of new standards requires high levels of industry support and organization.

5. Government support and policies change that is required to encourage exports of composite components?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: Much of Australian business in the composites industry is classed as a Small to Medium Enterprise – while Government policy has long advocated supporting SMEs, successful initiatives to build exports through these businesses are difficult to achieve.

6. Emerging applications that you foresee to have a significant bearing on the composites consumption?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: There is significant future investment likely in environmental infrastructure, in particular energy generation systems. A return to high oil prices is also likely to see renewed interest in the general plastics market. Industries utilizing unreinforced plastics may turn to low cost additives that increase properties, sometimes marginally, but reduce material costs significantly. CRC-ACS is developing the use of plant fibers in traditional thermoplastics as an example of this. The ability to “spend a million, save a billion” is true for examples such as repairing earthquake-damaged infrastructure, but is equally true for enabling delayed expenditure on infrastructure replacement. The technology can expand into a range of industries with ageing infrastructure.

7. How has global slowdown affected the market? How has been your organization’s growth in the last 2-3 years and how do your foresee the growth forward?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: The global slowdown has been particularly hard on the Australian marine industry, where the market is highly dependent on discretionary expenditure. In other market areas, particularly where manufacturers able to engage in infrastructure supply, ongoing Government expenditure has provided good stability. CRC-ACS, being primarily engaged in medium-term research, has not felt the impact of the slowdown to date. We have achieved significant success in implementing composite technology through major end users around the world, and this reputation is growing in a number of different market sectors.

8. Do you see high-potential for composites in the market? If yes, what are some of reasons for the same?

Dr. Andrew Beehag: I see very high potential in the composites market. There have been a number of industries that have transformed over time, moving from a low usage to high usage. The most recent example is commercial aircraft, with composites usage increasing from 15% to 50% by weight. Each industry in turn has adopted composites as a way of building a competitive edge, and there are several industries that are likely to make this transformation in future years. The adaptability of composites to a vast array of applications is likely to see composites well positioned to address a range of future challenges.

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