Robert S. Morrison
Sales, Material, Process, Management
Active promoter of the reinforced plastics industry since 1948. Chief Executive Officer of Molded Fiber Glass Companies, Inc., and Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Co. Pioneered in introducing reinforced plastics to the automotive industry and in the volume production molding of large RP passenger body parts. Built the first Corvettes, first matched metal die molded boat hulls.
In attempting to prognosticate the future of reinforced plastics and composites (RP/C), one cannot take only past production records of products, processes, and/or materials, determine the trend up to the present, and project that trend line indefinitely into the future. Two major factors cloud the perspective. On the one hand, the largest volume growth in the recent past has been in the relatively low-strength RP/C materials such as low-profile, sheet molding compound, and bulk molding compound. However, other non-reinforced plastics may be upgraded enough in coming years to cut into these applications. Some new strong homogeneous material might wipe out half or more of the RP/C industry. On the positive side, the greatest opportunity for reinforced plastics is in its strength. Most of the current high-strength applications should increase in volume. And if exotic high-strength fibers could be reduced in price sufficiently to permit mass application, we might well see spectacular growth in RP/C consumption -- 10,000 percent by the end of the century.
In the past quarter of a century, I have seen many products that were made of polyester-glass either decline in use or be made of some other material, usually a strong thermoplastic. At the same time, I have seen new uses for RP/C spring up rapidly that were not even considered potential applications a few years before. We will lose some applications, but we should gain far more new ones.
I do not expect RP/C to be among the fastest-growing plastic materials, but to hold its own with the average of the entire industry. Processing limitations of high-strength RP/C, as well as total material costs, will continue to depress the growth rate.
Improvement in raw materials is the industry's greatest hope for the future. As I have indicated, volume could be greatly enhanced if graphite or other high-strength fibers could be reduced in price to the range of glass fibers and be used in random strength patterns such as mat and preform. Improvements in resins to reduce shrink, crazing, brittleness, and flammability, and to increase shear, compression, and interlaminar strengths and chemical and temperature resistance could greatly increase use. It is this combination of low-priced, high- strength fibers and vastly improved resins that could result in a 100-fold increase in RP/C consumption by the end of the century.
We in the RP/C industry cannot accept present prices, properties, and processing costs of any material or end products as the ultimate we can do, or assume that since our operations are currently profitable, that they will continue indefinitely so. Growth in sales and profits will require not only a continuation of the pioneering and development work our segment of the new vast plastic industry has performed in the past, but also a higher sophistication in management, financing, and manufacturing operations than we have employed in the past. We should be alert to changes and improvements, but change in the past has not always resulted in improvement.