It was a long, painful process, but the North American composites industry now has a single major trade association. Perhaps the plastics industry will watch and learn from the example.
Last month the Composites Institute threw in the towel and merged with its rival, the Composites Fabricators Association. CI ceased to exist as of June 1.
The merger followed several years of messy competition, in which the two groups occasionally aired their differences in public. In 1997, for example, the two groups announced plans for a joint trade show — which would have been a positive step, since exhibitors were tiring of supporting both groups' large, annual events. But seven months later the plan fizzled, and the groups were forced to admit their failure.
In March 1998, CI members sponsored a poll to help determine their future. Of the 148 who participated, only half voted to remain in CI and its parent, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Later that month, 10 of CI's 11 board members urged CI members to defect to CFA.
In May 1998, a significant chunk of CI did just that — the Sheet Molding Composites Automotive Alliance jumped ship to join CFA.
CI's last gasp was its International Composites Exposition '99 show, held May 10-12 in Cincinnati. The sparsely attended event was proof of the urgent need to amalgamate the associations, and their trade shows.
The dispute has been a black cloud for the composites industry. But CFA and CI members are unified in their praise for the merger. One member summed it up when he said it's more efficient to have one big voice representing the composites industry, instead of two small voices.
It's unfortunate that SPI, the plastics industry's umbrella trade group, will lose some influence with the merger. SPI recently cut its dues and restructured its organization in an effort that should have made it more attractive to composites companies.
But clearly composites fabricators occupy a distinct niche, separate from the plastics industry, that deserves its own identity.
Although CFA is not under SPI's wing, some CFA members continue to belong to both groups. We encourage the two groups to continue to communicate and to work together for their members' common objectives.