The industry's meeting place


An exciting new event is helping to galvanise the UK's composites engineering sector. Mike Richardson spoke to UK Tech Events' managing director Ian Stone to discover how

An exciting new event is helping to galvanise the UK’s composites engineering sector. Mike Richardson spoke to UK Tech Events’ managing director Ian Stone to discover how this vibrant, niche industry has secured a platform on which to showcase the many technological innovations it offers.
If ever there was a UK engineering industry with all the promise and potential to do great things for the economy, yet needed the stage on which to do it, then it has to be the composites sector. Cometh the hour, cometh the show – the Composites Engineering Show returns for its second outing from 9-10 November at the NEC Birmingham.

Launched under the umbrella of ‘Advanced Engineering UK 2011’, which co-locates four of the UK’s advanced engineering, technology and innovation sectors, including the established Aero Engineering Show, plus two brand new events, the Energy Engineering Show and UK Plastic Electronics Show, the Composites Engineering Show showcases all the levels of the value chain.
Combining an expected 300+ exhibitors, four co-locating Open Technology Forums, parallel Industry Intelligence Briefings and an integrated B2B meeting setting facility for attendees, the event offers a unique intersection for engineering teams within each sector, as well as business and networking opportunities to maximise the shared applications and opportunities.

Organiser, UK Tech Events’ managing director, Ian Stone says that the 2011 event is set to be ‘the meeting point’ for the UK Composites sector. “The UK is the sixth largest manufacturing economy in the world and has an abundance of industries that are currently or potentially absorbing more and more composites into their development programmes,” he begins. “Our show is designed to provide an accessible event where all the supply chain and partners assisting organisations in their composites design and processing capability can be easily found.”

Taking up the baton

The doubters will say that the UK composites industry had lost its lead in technology and innovation, so is the show hoping to redress the balance? Stone points to a major sea change over the last decade towards advanced technology and manufacturing.

“There has been a movement away from the traditional low-tech, high volume manufacturing to industries that are based on significant amounts of R&D,” he continues. “These sectors are intellectual property rich, particularly in areas like materials where the UK is a world leader - not only in terms of composites, but also in advanced metallics and high performance engineering plastics too.

“This is a direct reflection of the enormous wealth of experience and academic infrastructure that the UK has supporting the materials technology sector. It’s natural for the UK to be one of the leading global centres of expertise for composites design and processing industries for materials development. We’re seeing a rebalancing of the engineering landscape and the UK has emerged as a leader in specialised advanced technology sectors.”

As an example, Stone highlights the UK’s aerospace and wind energy industries as major markets, as evidenced by two of the four ‘arms’ of Advanced Engineering UK. However he also describes ‘the sleeping giant’ of all the sectors involved in composite materials - the automotive industry – as a high priority.

“The UK is still a global leader in a high performance vehicle sector that is absorbing a huge amount of high performance composite material,” he states. “Increasing advances in process automation and the desire to automate the composite manufacturing process to achieve high volumes and lower cost production means taking composites to its next level. This will allow it to permeate the higher volume manufacturing industries like the mainstream automotive sector, which can absorb the benefits of lightweight, high performance structures that are needed in the move towards low carbon vehicles.”

Doubling in size

On the back of the first show in 2010 when around 70-80 composites-related companies exhibited, Stone is predicting that some 160 exhibiting suppliers and partners will turn out this year.
“Overall, the Advanced Engineering UK event will top 350 exhibitors making it one of the most important engineering dates on the UK calendar,” he confirms. “We had around 3,000 individual attendees last year, whereas this year I expect 4,000. We have a reasonable expectation of going way beyond that and early pre-registration levels are already three times ahead of where we were at this time last year.

“We have 150+ individual presentations that will take place in six integrated auditoria to offer a hugely diverse programme. There will be four open forums on the show floor supplying not only programming streams pertinent to the four parallel shows, but also topics that are more horizontal in interest, such as our specialist Test & Inspection Focus stream. We also have presentations in areas like additive manufacturing and programmes of special features.

“The breakdown of the presentations is very much into the ‘free to attend’ streams, which will be in four integrated auditoria on the show floor. We’ll also have two separate congress auditoriums that will provide continuous high-level ‘delegate-only’ daily marketing intelligence briefings for all four sectors.”

A fundamental purpose

Stone concludes: “Having the opportunity to get right into the underbelly of the UK industry for a really intensive networking experience has been massively welcomed and we predict another major increase in the size of the event next year, particularly as more and more international brands and companies join the exhibition. Interestingly, even the JEC Composites Show has confirmed a major stand to promote its range of consultancy and capability. This is a strong indication it sees the event as having a fundamental purpose.”

UK Tech Events will launch an Automotive Engineering event in 2012, which it says will not only provide a synergy with the organiser’s current event line-up, but more importantly align with Government’s desire to see the UK automotive industry take the lead in the development of low carbon vehicles via the increasing absorption of composites into the UK performance vehicle and general utility vehicle markets.

By the UK, for the UK

Trade association Composites UK will be heavily involved with the Composites Engineering Show, sponsoring the industry market intelligence briefing sessions, organising industry application forums and presenting a training review. It will also present at the Aerospace and Energy forums.

“The show is an ideal opportunity to showcase the UK’s industry,” states its secretary, Dr Sue Halliwell. “Walking around last year, there was a real buzz and everyone was really excited about how it could grow over the coming years.”

Is this what the composites industry has been waiting for? “Definitely,” she confirms, “but it’s all a matter of timing. There have been attempts in the past, but because of the economic climate the timing wasn’t right. The industry is now ready for a show like this and it’s exactly what the UK needs.”

Organisations like Composites UK are vital in providing the landscape within which the industry is developing, so how well does the show align with the organisation’s objectives?

“It’s crucial because our whole ethos is about supporting the UK industry and its capabilities. We’re organising the congress sessions, which will look at the support available and explaining how all the different organisational bodies are now working together, like the Materials KTN and the National Composites Centre. This has confused the industry in the past because there are many bodies with individual remits. Hopefully, the briefing sessions will clarify this situation and enable companies to find support. Other sessions will look at industry innovations and future market projections.

“In addition, we’re organising eight technical forum sessions which will take place on the show floor. Some of them will be application focused and look at various end-user industries, such as construction, marine, renewable energy, automotive and transport. There will be three other sessions focusing on processing technologies and material developments. The idea here is to showcase what the UK has achieved so far and what it can do going forward.”
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