Carbon fiber is a magical material. That or similar comments were heard over and over from Roosevelt High School (Seattle) students attending a Composites 101 Workshop held at the National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education (MatEdU), a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (ATE)-sponsored program at Edmonds Community College (Lynnwood, WA). The Dec. 13, 2016, workshop was a collaboration between SME’s Composites Manufacturing Tech Group, Roosevelt High School and SME’s Seattle Chapter 39.
According to one Roosevelt High School senior, Eric, he and the 17 other students who attended felt this pilot workshop was a special opportunity to learn and explore about materials and other aspects of manufacturing. “Carbon fiber is this material you hear a lot about and you think ‘oh wow’ it’s so complicated; working with it, though, you can kind of get hands-on experience with it,” he said.
Thanks to the SME Education Foundation’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative, participants from Roosevelt High School, a PRIME school, began the Composites 101 Workshop with classroom presentations on the industry as a whole, an overview of composite materials and a fast-paced introduction to a hands-on carbon-fiber project. After the class lessons, students moved into the lab to start their project: a carbon-fiber smartphone or ebook reader stand. Stratasys, a workshop sponsor, provided 3D-printed tools (a layup mold for the carbon-fiber stands) out of ULTEM 1010, a high-temperature thermoplastic made by SABIC.
Workshop Addresses Industry Need
“This is a valuable workshop for introducing students to composites and the manufacturing of composites. This opens the door for interested students to pursue a career in composites technology or manufacturing,” Dianne Chong, retired vice president of materials, manufacturing, structures and support at The Boeing Co. and 2017–18 international director for the SME Board of Directors, said. “Great workshop that helps both industry and students make connections about careers.”
Lou Dorworth, division manager-direct services at Abaris Training Resources Inc. and chair of SME’s Composites Manufacturing Tech Group, explained that carbon-fiber usage is growing dramatically in the wind, automotive, transportation and aerospace sectors. In fact, the global market for carbon fiber is estimated to be valued at $2.87 billion in 2016 and projected to reach $8 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 10.8% (MarketsandMarkets, Dec. 2016).
The Next-Generation Workforce
According to Dorworth, “There’s already a shortage of trained individuals for advanced composites. These workshops allow SME to introduce composite manufacturing to the next-generation workforce,” he said. “The thinking is that by providing a robust introduction to the advanced composite industry to PRIME school students, we will gain interest and recruit future manufacturing [and materials] engineers and technicians to support the anticipated demand. The incentive for students is that high demand for talent equates to higher-wage jobs. The industry will happily pay more for educated individuals than for untrained, entry-level workers.”
The main overview, led by Dave Dickson, associate technical fellow at Boeing Commercial Airplanes Production Engineering, helped students understand the opportunity for better-paying jobs. By showing a visual presentation of everything from aircraft to jet boats to race cars as well as everyday items that he passed around the room, Dickson spread his enthusiasm for materials as a job specialty.
“I think all of us had a great time doing the workshop. I had a chance to talk to the class about composite materials and various composite products as well as an opportunity to coach them along in making their composite tablet stands in the lab. Hopefully this plants the seeds in these kids’ minds about a possible career in composites and maybe in aerospace composites in a few years. Kids like these are important to Boeing’s future. We have a lot of very senior employees that will be retiring in the next several years, and we will need smart kids like these to come in and take our place. This is common across many industries today,” he said.
Every Composites Workshop student interviewed expressed gratitude for the experience and enthusiasm for the hands-on experience of working with composites and carbon fiber in particular. While sanding her smartphone/tablet stand, Harper, an 11th grader, summarized what many of the students shared. “I’ve really been enjoying my engineering class, and this workshop has been fun so far—it’s really cool to get experiences like this. I feel grateful that we can explore different fields, diverse careers and new interests,” she said.
We would like to express our gratitude to our workshop sponsors: Abaris Training; Airtech Advanced Materials Group; The Boeing Co.; Composites Washington; Edmonds Community College; the National Science Foundation; MatEdu National Resource Center; Seattle Public Schools; SME’s Composites Manufacturing Tech Group and Seattle Chapter 39; Stratasys; TenCate; and the Washington Aerospace Training & Research Center.