In the middle of the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars conference, Brad Dunstan told automakers and suppliers alike that they should think about airplanes.
Boeing Inc.'s new 787 Dreamliner jet is making news and garnering orders because its lightweight structure - half of it from composites - is making it possible for airlines to make more nonstop flights, he said.
The Dreamliner also is changing the aerospace world through its major interest in using carbon fiber. Boeing will use 25 percent of the existing global supply of carbon fiber as it builds the 787, said Dunstan, chief executive officer of the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing in Belmont, Australia.
``It is going to soak up just about every free pound out there,'' he said during the Aug. 6-10 conference in Traverse City.
But that interest from Boeing also will likely lead to increased production, and the auto industry needs to get ready.
``We need to put plans in place now when it becomes available,'' he said.
Automakers already have been exploring carbon fiber as part of an overall expansion of its materials use.
Consider BMW AG's M6 sports car, said Michael Bull, director of technology for aluminum supplier Novelis Corp. of Atlanta.
The car, priced at about $100,000, is not a typical family sedan, but it shows what happens when carmakers start taking a new look at body panels. The M6 has a carbon-fiber roof, aluminum doors and hood, sheet molding compound trunk and thermoplastic bumper fascia.
``Clearly this is an indication of where materials are going, and an example of the need to build a capability to mix and match those materials,'' Bull said.
And as automakers mix and match, they also will need new ways to unite those different resins and metals, said Don Walkowicz, executive director of United States Council for Automotive Research.
That means both suppliers and automakers must find the best way to join those materials, deal with the different thermal expansion issues of a variety of parts on each car, find out how to paint and treat bodies that have different skins - and do it without adding unnecessary manufacturing costs or extra warranty issues for car buyers.
``With apologies to Madonna, we're all living in a material world,'' Dunstan said.