Composite of an Innovation Cluster

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by | May 17, 2016

Polaris MEP & Composites Alliance of RI Awarded Industry Cluster Grant

According to the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), the composites industry is posed for steady growth: the U.S. industry grew by 6.3% in 2014 and is projected to grow an average of 6.5% between now and 2020. Rhode Island’s East Bay is the home to more than 35 companies that focus primarily on carbon fiber and fiberglass composite manufacturing. Statewide, there are about 75 composite companies in this cluster. In addition to production companies, Rhode Island has supporting companies including product weavers such as Concordia Fibers; suppliers such as like GuritComposites One and Core Composites; one of the country’s leading mold builders, Symmetrix; education and training providers such as IYRS and short-term training programs such as the Marine Trades and Composites Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program; research and advanced training facilities including University of Rhode IslandRoger Williams University and Rhode Island School of Design. With all aspects of the composites spectrum covered, and a specialty niche in innovative prototyping and production services, Rhode Island is well positioned to become a leader in the industry.

The Composites Alliance of Rhode Island is a consortium of companies and stakeholders focused on growing the composites industry in Rhode Island through advocacy, education and promotion. Currently under the organizational umbrella of RIMTA, the Alliance was formed in May 2014, after an industry round table that drew a hundred thought leaders from government and industry who together determined a clear need for a unified approach to exploring the capabilities of the state’s composites industry, its needs, and its ability to create jobs.

In May of 2016, Polaris MEP & Composites Alliance of RI were awarded an industry cluster grant to promote adoption of composites as a new material for manufactured products.

The Polaris MEP & Composites Alliance of RI project has three basic goals:

  1. increase the number of new contracts between composites companies and composite customers;
  2. meet employers’ needs for skilled workforce now and in the future;
  3. partner with or create a sustainable organization that meets the economic and workforce development needs of the RI composites cluster.

Based on these goals, Polaris MEP and RIMTA are working together with the Alliance to increase the capacity and marketability of Rhode Island advanced composites manufacturers through the following initiatives listed below. The key initiatives for this planning grant are the following:

Initiative #1: Gain a clear understanding of the current and potential economic impact for Rhode Island’s composites manufacturing cluster.
RIMTA will engage Planning Decisions, a highly respected research and planning firm, to conduct a comprehensive study in order to better understand the existing composites cluster in Rhode Island, to calculate the cluster’s current economic impact in Rhode Island, and to ensure that the future of the industry’s potential is realized over the coming decade. The information from the study will be married with in-depth one-to-one interviews currently being conducted with composites companies by the Composites Alliance Project Director. This information will also be used to inform and develop workforce development training and additional economic development activities.

Initiative #2: Increase awareness and understanding of the cluster’s capabilities and material benefits of composites as a medium for manufactured products.
An in-depth understanding of the composites cluster’s current, potential and collective capabilities will be used to introduce and/or educate design and manufacturing companies, state and federal agency officials and other stakeholders on the benefits of composite materials and the capabilities of the composites cluster in Rhode Island as well as to attract work from companies outside of the state. Efforts will be focused on business-to-business relationship building in the targeted industry sectors of defense, transportation infrastructure, architecture and construction. Key activities include presentations and business development at key industry events such as SENEDIA’s Defense Innovation Days, ACMA’s Infrastructure Days and the Composites and Advanced Materials Expo (CAMX).

Rhode Island has a strong metal machining industry that has current and historical roots in Electric Boat’s supply chain support. This community of small and medium manufacturers continually looks for innovation, but does not have R&D resources or funding to explore technologies for new products or existing product enhancement. Composite manufacturing technologies could be a strong growth tool for these companies.

To further demonstrate the benefits of composites materials and the capabilities of Rhode Island manufacturers, Polaris MEP and the Alliance will identify and match a traditional materials product manufacturer with a composites manufacturer for the purposes of creating a case study; comparing the traditional approach to the advanced composites approach. The case study will highlight the disparities between the two approaches, demonstrate the advantages and benefits of using composites, and show how to close the gap.

Initiative #3: Connect in-and out-of-state manufacturers, state and federal agency representatives and targeted industry representatives to Rhode Island composites manufacturers.
Based on the successful model utilized in the 2015 American Manufacturing Strategies Summit held in Orange County, California, Polaris MEP and RIMTA will organize and produce a Composites Manufacturing Summit in Fall 2016. The summit will showcase the capabilities and advantages of composites materials and Rhode Island composites manufacturers. As a lead-up to the summit, a series of composites-specific versions of Polaris’ Rocket Tour program will be held. In addition, there will also be a series of events to inform and cultivate relationships between state and federal agencies and Rhode Island-based composites manufacturers.

Initiative #4: Connect to and/or create a sustainable organizational model for administration of long-term cluster services.
The Composites Alliance Steering Committee and representatives from stakeholder organizations including Polaris MEP and RIMTA will complete a formal strategic planning process in the Spring 2016 to further develop the Alliance’s goals, scope of work and plan to achieve sustainability. This, paired with the economic impact study, will determine the long-term organizational model and sustainability plan for the Alliance.

This project will build relationships with and among key influencers and players connected to expanding the composites cluster, including state and federal agencies, elected officials, workforce and economic development associations, education and training providers and individual manufacturers, designers and suppliers.

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