More than 5,700 attendees flocked to the Georgia World Congress Center for CAMX 2023, co-hosted by ACMA and SAMPE. The four-day event featured in-depth tutorials and educational sessions, as well as networking opportunities. This year, 525 exhibitors displayed industry innovations in tooling, thermoplastic composites, additive manufacturing, automated equipment, advanced materials and more.

CAMX 2023 kicked off with a keynote address at the general session from retired NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham, who was a crew member on the 2006 Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station. She shared her experience as an astronaut and a career shift into corporate America that included stints with Marathon Oil and Lowe’s Companies.

Higgenbotham, who launched the aerospace consulting firm Joan Higgenbotham Ad Astra LLC in 2022, noted that being open to new opportunities played a bigger role in her career trajectory than making plans.

“The one thing I did plan for and was successful at was to be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves,” she said. “And while I can’t tell you what the next big thing for me is, the one thing I can say is that there are limitless possibilities that lie ahead, and I plan to be poised to take advantage of each and every one of them.”

There are limitless possibilities in the composites industry, too. Here are just four areas that gained attention during CAMX 2023:

Sustainability – There was a lot of buzz at CAMX 2023 around sustainability, with several educational sessions and exhibitors focused on the topic. In addition, ACMA held a Sustainability Forum to provide updates on expansion of its life cycle inventory and development of product category rules and environmental product declarations as part of the association’s Climate Impact Project.

Experts from Hyundai-Kia, Teijin Group and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) participated in a panel discussion at the featured session “Impact of Sustainability for Future Automotive Programs.” Michael J. Siwajek, vice president of research and development for the Teijin Group, stressed the importance of collaboration to help OEMs reach their sustainability targets. He added that while sustainable materials are the low hanging fruit, there are bigger issues to resolve around recycling, emission reduction and carbon neutrality.

“There are many segments to sustainability. Where can we affect it quickly and then do the research on the harder stuff, like end of life?” asked Siwajek. “We have a good story , but it’s not a complete story. So, we have to keep working on it.”

Infrastructure Resiliency – Joe Fox, president of FX Consulting LLC began his comments at a campfire session on the built environment talking about the Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which grades categories such as bridges, roads, dams and wastewater.

“It’s not the kind of report card that you want your kids to bring home. Of the 17 grades, there are two Bs, four Cs and the rest are either D, D-minus or D-plus,” he said. “So, there is a tremendous need in our nation for infrastructure.”

A resilient infrastructure is paramount to withstand risks from natural disasters, such as hurricanes and fires, as well as cybersecurity breaches. “We need resilient materials, and composites have a role to play,” said Fox, one of three panelists at the campfire session.

Resiliency was also a primary topic at the featured session “Revolutionizing Waterway Infrastructure,” where members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shared how composite materials can help solve problems with aging steel navigation locks and flood risk management dams.

Hydrogen Energy Movement – During the featured session “Moving into a Hydrogen World,” Asha-Dee Celestine of the U.S. Department of Energy discussed the Biden administration’s goal to achieve a 100% carbon pollution-free electric sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

“We believe that hydrogen is going to be a key element – not the element – in a portfolio of solutions in addition to wind, solar and other technologies,” said Celestine, an ORISE Fellow in the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office at the DOE.

The three-pronged U.S. National Clean  Hydrogen Strategy aims to target high-impact uses, reduce the cost of clean hydrogen and deploy and scale up regional clean hydrogen hubs. Developing a robust infrastructure will be key.

“Infrastructure is that middle piece between when we produce the hydrogen molecules and when we use it,” said Celestine. “It includes transmission, distribution, delivery and storage of hydrogen.” Composites companies are well-positioned to offer infrastructure solutions, including pipelines and storage tanks.

Automation and AI – Approximately 30% of exhibitors showcased automated solutions in their booths, including Composites One and the Closed Mold Alliance. One of their most popular live demonstrations was GrayMatter’s smart robotic cells for sanding, spraying and coating composite parts.

Artificial intelligence was the focus of several educational sessions, including the featured session “AI Machine Learning and Composites,” where experts discussed how artificial intelligence is furthering automation of composites manufacturing processes.

At a campfire session on artificial intelligence, Rishi Gurnani, technology development lead at Matmerize, began with an overview of how AI affects our daily lives.

“AI is all around us these days,” said Gurnani, citing ChatGPT as an example of the growing use of artificial intelligence. He then transitioned into how the software company employs machine learning to accelerate composite material development.

Moving advanced materials from the lab to real-world applications is an arduous process. Gurnani mentioned Teflonas an example: It took 22 years between the time polytetrafluoroethylene was discovered in a lab at 1938 and the first piece of Teflon coated cookware was sold. Matmerize believes its technology can significantly speed up the process.

Be sure to join ACMA and SAMPE in San Diego from Sept. 9 – 12 next year for CAMX 2024 to keep up to date on the limitless possibilities in the composites industry.