LONG BEACH, CALIF. — A top Navy aerospace materials research official urged caution regarding use of thermoplastics. "It all comes down to cost, schedule, performance and risk," said Dale Moore, who directs aerospace materials research and engineering for the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md.
"You've got to be pragmatic about these new technologies. ... We tend to jump on the next bandwagon without thinking through it. A lot of Murphies out there can bite you," Moore said in a keynote speech at the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering conference, held May 21-25 in Long Beach.
In an interview, Moore criticized use of resin transfer molding in aerospace applications by other branches of the military. A few years ago, "some organizations decided to pursue that with vigor," but the Navy held to a higher standard, he said. "We've been extremely judicious in the RTM application."
Rapid extraordinary change and big-picture thinking are terms he used in summarizing a morning-long discussion about future advanced materials.
"I see developments in the future that allow us to do tremendous things," he said "Make sure people know the impact of materials we have today and in the future because it is remarkable."
The panelists' views reflected various changes.
William Kessler of Lockheed Martin Corp. said his company "is fundamentally going to change the way we do business with the supplier base."
The old model with suppliers was "an arm's length agreement [with a] lot of inefficiencies and waste," said Kessler, who is vice president of enterprise productivity with Lockheed Martin's aeronautical systems business in Marietta, Ga.
The new model will feature integrated relationships that move materials quickly, reduce lead times and meet customer commitments.
"Our competitiveness strategy must be adaptable to external change," he said.
Lou Montulli, a former White House senior policy analyst, advised defense contractors to reinvent themselves by looking at commercial opportunities for their technology.
"Defense will be around, but you can prospect if you become an entrepreneurial technology company," said Montulli, chairman and chief executive officer of Greenland Corp. of Oceanside, Calif.
"Just set up a program to look at the commercial world and pick the low-hanging fruit."
He noted that the Internet, personal computers and cellular telephones "all started in the military" with contractors having "first knowledge, first use, first control and you had patent rights."
Publicly traded Greenland makes software and machinery for financial service applications, including money orders.
Transforming concepts to reality is difficult, said Robert DeGange, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing with Advanced Glassfiber Yarns LLC.
"Growth companies are recognizing that collaboration is the way to grow," DeGange said.
Advanced Glassfiber is a Aiken, S.C.-based joint venture formed by Groupe Porcher Industries and Owens Corning in September 1998. The joint venture is developing fiber-filled exhaust systems, and wondering how to expand on the concept, according to DeGange.
A government official said composite fabricators have not taken advantage of a program that funds prototype projects. A Commerce Department incentive program "left $20 million lying on the table last year" for lack of enough qualified proposals, according to Cita Furlani, acting deputy director of the advanced technology program within the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.
Proposals are judged equally on scientific and technological merit and broad-based economic benefits. Intellectual property is safeguarded, Furlani said.
"We are not in the same ballpark as NASA or Naval Air, but we've got money and it is available," she said.
NIST clients have included Strongwell Corp. of Bristol, Va., for development of a bridge over a creek in Blacksburg, Va.; an automotive composites consortium on concepts going into the Chevrolet Silverado truck; and Advanced Technical Products Inc.'s Lincoln Composites unit in Lincoln, Neb., for work on risers for offshore oil exploration.