LONG BEACH, CALIF. — A key civilian materials leader with funding authority for the U.S. Air Force sees an exciting time for polymer matrix composites in the 21st century.
``Even the most pessimistic technology forecast for the next millennium holds all sorts of opportunities and challenges for the composites community,'' said Charles Browning, director of the materials and manufacturing directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
``I think composites are on the road to becoming a commodity material, particularly if infrastructure application breaks out, by 2025,'' he said at SAMPE '99 in Long Beach. That would constitute a 65-year life cycle for advanced composites, but ``I think aluminum did it a lot quicker than that.''
Browning described four stages in an aerospace material's life cycle: revolutionary, during invention; emerging, or evolutionary; specialty use; and commodity use, or ``the dream of all dreams.''
He placed polymer matrix composites in the specialty materials stage now, after they surfaced in the 1960s and entered production in the 1970s.
The early stages pose the greatest challenge, Browning said. ``I understand the need for making money off materials, but frankly, if we don't keep the revolutionary and emerging stages alive, then [specialty or commodity uses] will eventually be in a world of hurt and start drying up.''
He finds it useful ``to chart a material and a process and come up with an investment strategy and transitions.'' The directorate needs to make future funding decisions and pursue strategies to achieve the sometimes-difficult transitions. He expects constrained resources, demands for shorter cycle times and creative computing to affect material life cycles in the 21st century.