Plastics industry organizations understandably sometimes find it a challenge to bond with other trade associations. By definition each group exists for reasons of self-interest. Promoting one part of the industry often comes at the expense of another. Moreover, members within each association often are competitors. That produces tension, which can be exacerbated by professional disagreements, personal conflicts and conflicting egos.
As correspondent Roger Renstrom points out this week [Page 19], over the years some material groups have struggled with these and other issues that prevented cooperation.
Such behavior is counterproductive, which is why such a premium is placed on cooperative behavior.
In recent years, money, specifically the lack of it, has served to encourage cooperation and greater coordination of events among associations. That is a positive turnabout, and its effect can be seen in areas beyond the composites industry.
The sharing of resources and control of issues can produce unusually good collective results for organizations. Getting them to ``walk the talk'' of cooperation is the real difficulty.
There are clear signs in the growing number of joint conferences, trade shows and government-industry agreements, such as the one achieved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and industry groups on workplace styrene exposure, that the road once less-traveled is now considered the choice route.
It is for those who want to move forward.
Speaking of composites and trade groups, a recent congressional authorization report directing the Secretary of Defense to find opportunities to put materials such as polymer matrix composites in field systems is more than ``good timing,'' as a spokesman for two industry associations observed.
It also is an example of prudent industry cooperation.
Jeffrey Abboud, director of government affairs for the Arlington, Va.-based Suppliers of Advanced Composite Materials Association and the U.S. Advanced Ceramics Association, notes that both groups worked during the past year to put language in congressional reports authorizing Department of Defense actions for the 1997 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.
Early drafts of the reports did not mention polymer matrix composites despite a previous DOD analysis that allotted 18 pages to the polymer technology.
The omission was of concern since use of the technology for military programs has declined. Some in the industry suspected the surprising absence of reference to composites might signal a Pentagon shift in direction for its Advanced Research Projects Agency.
It's a legitimate suspicion. A 1987 forecast said the Defense Department's carbon fiber market would be 7 million pounds in 1995. The actual market was just 1 million pounds.
Fortunately, the congressional report keeps polymer matrix composites alive for federal dollars and may lead to additional military requirements for the material.
The associations have reason to be pleased. What they got is significantly better than that which had been absent without leave.