March 1994

Dick J. Wilkins, University of Delaware (Panel Chair)

Moto Ashizawa, Ashizawa Associates Composites Engineering

Jon B. DeVault, Advanced Research Projects Agency

Dee R. Gill, McDonnell Douglas

Vistasp M. Karbhari, University of Delaware

Joseph S. McDermott, Consultant


The United States has invested a great deal of effort in developing polymer composite structures. Now, the government seeks expanded applications. Experts perceive that the barrier to expanded applications is the high cost of manufacturing. This is not only an American issue, but an international one. Consequently, the government asked this panel to evaluate the status and outlook for manufacturing, or fabrication, technology in the U.S. and Japan, with an eye toward finding or developing mechanisms of cooperation.

The title for this study is "Advanced Manufacturing Technology for Polymer Composite Structures." The title reflects the panel's emphasis on polymer composites, and the focus on manufacturing technology as the key to wider use of composites by lowering the cost of using them.

For the purpose of this study, we define a composite as a combination of two or more materials that enhances their properties. Composites are being used because of their superior capabilities in the following categories:

Familiar applications include boats, surf boards, fishing rods, racquets, skis, and tool handles. Many advanced applications of composites have been made in the aircraft industry:

The manufacturing methods of major interest for this study are shown in Table 21.

Manufacturing Methods of Major Interest

[table 21]


The panel's approach was to develop a draft report summarizing the status and outlook for advanced manufacturing technology of polymer composite structures in the U.S. This report was given to the hosts in the approximately 20 Japanese organizations that the ten-person JTEC team visited over a ten-day period in December 1992.

Sponsors for this study were:

The study was carried out under the auspices of the Japanese Technology Evaluation Center (JTEC) at Loyola College, funded by the above agencies through NSF's grant to JTEC. JTEC studies are carried out by the International Technology Research Institute (ITRI) at Loyola College; ITRI is directed by Dr. R.D. Shelton. Within ITRI, the JTEC Principal Investigator and Director is Dr. Michael J. DeHamer and the JTEC/WTEC Staff Director and Series Editor is Geoff Holdridge.

As detailed in Appendix B of the full report, the panel had unique qualifications for this study:

Dick Wilkins (Chair), University of Delaware

Moto Ashizawa, Ashizawa and Associates Composites Engineering

Jon DeVault, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)

Dee R. Gill, McDonnell Douglas

Vistasp Karbhari, Center for Composite Materials

Joe McDermott, Composites Services Corp

During the visit to Japan, the panel was assisted by a number of highly qualified sponsor representatives:

Dr. Iqbal Ahmad, ARO

Dr. Alan Engel, ISTA

Dana Granville, ARL

Dr. Bruce Kramer, NSF

Xavier Spiegel, JTEC

The mission of the study was to summarize the current status and future outlook of polymer composite structures in Japan and in the United States. It was motivated by the desire of the U.S. to move from invention to commercialization, which dictates advancements for low cost, repeatable manufacturing. The hope was expressed to the Japanese hosts that the U.S. and Japan could cooperate so as to expand the market for composites.

Available literature was used to summarize the U.S. status in a document for the Japanese hosts to see the scope being sought. Available literature and key Japan site visits were also used to summarize the Japanese status. Summary findings were presented at a Workshop in Washington, D.C. on February 18, 1993. This report was then developed.


It is overwhelmingly clear that individual organizations in both Japan and the United States practice the same basic manufacturing technologies. But Japanese companies practice them with a much greater respect for detail. This respect for detail leads directly to the high quality evident in their operations and parts.

The Japanese hosts expressed great confidence in the training and skills of their work force. At the same time, factory workers help develop the fabrication methods to achieve the best chance of success.

Many of the processes observed were relentlessly developed to remove chances for errors and reduce cost. This persistence was striking.

The panel observed impressive efforts to reduce composite detail part count. One derivative is the high level of excellence achieved in co-curing. Another is the observed emphasis on dry-fiber preforming.

There were a number of interesting areas showing strong potential for success. These included:


The JTEC panel's qualitative comparisons between the United States and Japan in advanced manufacturing technology for polymer composite structures are shown in Table 22. The full report addresses each of the topics listed in the table in some detail. Conclusions in each of these topics are also summarized below.


The aerospace sector is focused on commercial applications of aerospace technology. Japanese technology was introduced through alliances with U.S. and European companies, from whom the Japanese companies have transferred both good and bad habits.

Automotive and Industrial

While the U.S. seems to still have opportunities in automotive applications, Japan appears to be stymied by recycling concerns.

Japan is quite aggressive in this industrial field. Many cost-driven applications are being tried.

Japan Compared to U.S. in Advanced Manufacturing Technology
for Polymer Composite Structures

(See Key)
[table 22]

Civil Engineering

In contrast to the U.S., where the construction industry is fragmented, the Japanese opportunities in civil engineering applications are many and varied.


There is still a large effort to introduce pitch carbon fiber into applications. The economics are still mysterious, however.

Emphasis on thermoplastics was evident, in spite of the reduction in emphasis in the U.S. Similarly, high temperature resins are getting much attention.

Manufacturing Processing

In contrast to the U.S. approach of developing computational models to understand processes better, Japanese manufacturing science appears to reside in experienced workers who develop understanding of the processes over long periods of time.

Product and Process Development

Japanese product and process development use concurrent engineering by definition. Japanese teams have developed the human factors issues far beyond those in the West.


Advantages in Japan


Japan and the U.S. have much to gain from each other. Each country has different strengths to bring to composites manufacturing. Many of our hosts expressed the belief that they must develop ways to cooperate with the U.S. In perspective, producers in both countries can reduce costs by obtaining a deeper understanding of basic processes. Companies in both countries must also develop a unified basis for understanding what it takes to make repeatable composite structures so that new markets may be opened with more confidence and reliability. It is also clear that the process advancements made by the Japanese can be transferred to the U.S. only by also transferring the spirit of cooperation that exists within Japanese companies.

Published: March 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian