SAN ANTONIO — A revamped Composites Fabricators Association exhibited strength in exhibits, attendance and new- membership niches at the group's largest convention, held Oct. 20-24 in San Antonio.
CFA has undergone massive changes since becoming a self-managed group and opening a new office in Arlington, Va., in September 1997. Association Management Group of McLean, Va., had run CFA staff functions since 1982.
``The thinking was, we'd get through the transition, settle into a steady work flow and then start attacking the objectives of growth and opportunity,'' Fred Dierks, CFA president, said in a presentation at Composites '98.
``As fate would have it, however, our chance of growth came sooner than anyone anticipated,'' he said. ``We had to act or lose a significant opportunity.'' Dierks is vice president of manufacturing planning and logistics with Aqua Glass Corp. of Adamsville, Tenn.
Dissension within another organization, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Composites Institute, roiled the status quo and opened the door for many of CFA's developments.
Here's what's happened at CFA:
The Automotive Composites Alliance of Troy, Mich., became a CFA division June 1. Two staff members report directly to the ACA board. The group was formed in 1988 as the Sheet Molding Composites Automotive Alliance and had operated as a Composites Institute division for a decade. ACA has 25 composite molders and plastic materials suppliers as members.
A CFA Pultrusion Growth Alliance with 17 members was formed in late June. ``Six months ago, we didn't have many pultruders [as members],'' Missy Henriksen, CFA executive director, said in an interview at Composites '98. ``That has changed. We are responding to what they want.''
CFA created a Composites Market Expansion Group that held its first full meeting during the San Antonio convention. The group targets market expansion over three to five years and some market development. The association's board added the expansion group's objective to the CFA mission statement Oct. 20. A competing Composites Institute effort takes a longer-range look at market development, Dierks said.
CFA has formed a Closed Molding Process Division, chaired by Richard S. Morrison, chief executive officer of Molded Fiber Glass Cos. of Ashtabula, Ohio.
CFA has absorbed a Resin Management Council with subgroups for general managers, process-safety managers and technical personnel — the latter as a subcommittee analyzing the impact of environmental regulations on the polyunsaturated market. The council ``elected in June to come over [from CI and] to form under CFA,'' Henriksen said.
CFA, formed in 1979, characterizes the developments as additions, not changes, she said.
Dierks credits Henriksen's insight, time, patience and accessibility for helping to make the right things happen in the right way and for achieving a smooth transition to independent management.
To make the change, CFA invested about $100,000 in hardware and other assets, Henriksen estimated.
So far, CFA's financial condition is ``very healthy,'' Dierks said.
The management company employed nine on the CFA account. The association hired those individuals, added two positions last year and brought in John Schweitzer of Ann Arbor, Mich., from the Composites Institute as CFA's senior director of government affairs in mid-April. Tiana Hickman joined CFA in August as director of advertising sales for the group's monthly magazine.
CFA membership has grown about 15 percent and exceeds 800 firms now, prior to dropping non-renewing firms in November.
There ``definitely has been growth,'' Henriksen said. CFA has recorded ``a lot of increase in closed-molding and pultrusion companies.''
These members ``want our voice as a composites industry to be very loud and very clear and very consistent, mostly to the regulatory community and end-user community, as decision makers and end users look at the options of materials available to them,'' she said.
In 1995, Dierks inaugurated an annual July retreat to identify major CFA needs and directions under the rubric Vision 2000. ``We may not know how to get there [but] at least we have things in place,'' he said.
One result is CFA's newly issued 30-page ``Wage & Salary Survey Report,'' available to members for $45 and nonmembers for $90.
In September, CFA published a ``Controlled Spraying Handbook'' with guidelines for spray operators in the open-molding composites industry. The handbook costs members $12, nonmembers, $20.
Cooperation and information exchanges with the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering of Covina, Calif., started at Composites '97. ``Responses are overwhelmingly positive,'' Henriksen said.
SAMPE represents individuals generally working with advanced materials and narrow niches, while CFA member companies deal mostly with conventional fabrication and molding processes and broader markets.
CFA now participates in SAMPE's major spring conferences, and soon the groups will ``share articles in each other's magazines,'' Henriksen said.
Composites '98 was CFA's first trade show in a convention center. The San Antonio venue has 105,000 square feet of available space. Previously, CFA held its exhibits in hotel ballrooms.
This year, 204 exhibitors participated, in comparison to 175 at the Composites '97 show in Orlando, Fla., Henriksen said.
Custom molding compound producer Premix Inc. of North Kingsville, Ohio, and Sherwin-Williams Co.'s transportation coatings division in Cleveland were among the new exhibitors.
``A lot of our technology is headed toward composites for the transportation industry,'' Tanya Kjellin, Sherwin-Williams primer chemist, said in an interview. Sherwin-Williams sells material packages for in-mold coating and paint-into-mold requirements.
Preliminary figures indicate 3,600 attendees at Composites '98; 3,500 attended the 1997 show.
CFA and the Composites Institute made news at Composites '97 in announcing plans for a joint trade show in 2000. The concept fizzled seven months later but may be ripe for revival, given CFA's success in San Antonio and exhibitors' wariness about the expense of, and payback from, multiple industry shows.
Earlier this year, CI said its next International Composites Expo would take place May 10-13 in Cincinnati. CI has confirmed the dates and is beginning to promote ICE '99.
CFA has a Composites '99 commitment Oct. 27-30 for a portion of McCormick Place in what will be the group's first Chicago convention and trade show.