JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
Owens Corning is one of the largest composite companies in Ohio, if not the world. With global revenues of $5 billion, it employs nearly 20,000 and has manufacturing, sales and research facilities – including joint-venture and licensee relationships – in more than 30 countries on six continents. In this interview, its president of North American composites solutions business, Jeff Boersma, discusses the company and the Ohio composites industry.
(Published on April 2006 – JEC Magazine #24)
JEC Composites Magazine: What is your opinion of the Ohio composite market, and where do you see it headed in the next few years?
Jeff Boersma: Because of its size and relevance, the Ohio composite market reflects much of what is happening on a global scale. As a global company, we have to have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the state and around the world. In Ohio and worldwide, there is tremendous opportunity in every industry and every country to replace traditional materials with composites.
Although composites constitute more than a $20-billion a year industry, they represent only 0.5% of material usage compared to wood, steel and aluminium. That could translate into tremendous opportunity if the composites industry can focus on price parity with other materials, acting with speed on a global scale and creating customer intimacy anywhere in the world.
On the cost front, we have to drive for price parity with traditional materials and not build our business on life-cycle costs. As for acting with speed and developing customer intimacy, these are the essence of creating advantage. At Owens Corning, we do this through our worldwide network of R&D centres and our more than 200 scientists on five continents, working 24/7/365 to build this industry and raise the bar for what composites and technology can bring to global markets.
J.C.M.: How has being based in Ohio helped Owens Corning?
J. B.: A key part of Owens Corning’s global strategy is to create customer intimacy. And certainly many of our key customers are located right here in Ohio. But we are a global company, so we are constantly creating that intimacy through regional organizations that are on-the-ground and immersed in local environments – allowing us to better and more rapidly fulfil growing customer needs, as well as identify new opportunities and applications. Having said that, of course, Ohio is special in that our roots are here. Our global headquarters facility is in Toledo, we have a world-class R&D centre in Granville, not far from the state capital in Columbus, and we have approximately 4,000 employees in the state who help contribute to the economic livelihood of countless communities.
As a company, we grew up in Ohio, but we also helped shape the composites industry here. Even going back to the early 1940s, when two of our researchers went to a town in Ohio to see a plastic material made for military applications that was using drapery fabric for the reinforcement, which the resin didn’t stick to very well. We realized that this was something special, so we continued to refine this process and soon discovered glass fibres would bond well with resins and make good composite material and laminates. That discovery helped us land one of the earliest high-volume applications for glass-reinforced plastic material – trays for Wonder® bread trucks. The fibreglass-reinforced plastic trays did the job and took over the market. So, we’ve been a leader in this industry for more than 67 years, and we call Ohio home. And, for me, as the leader of Owens Corning’s business in North America, I can say that being located here in the heart of the North American composites industry is critical to our success.
J.C.M.: What advantages does the state of Ohio provide, and are there any disadvantages?
J. B.: Ohio, as a state, continues to help foster innovation and growth of the composites industry. A perfect example is the Third Frontier Project, which is a 10-year, $1.1 billion initiative to build world-class capacity in the state, support the development of new products, and finance advanced manufacturing technologies to help existing industries become more productive. The composites industry has certainly benefited from this, as the program has supported Ohio-based companies, universities and research organizations.
Ohio also provides the industry with access to world-class research organizations at many of the state’s universities. In fact, as you may know, the National Composites Centre is located in Kettering. The NCC has helped pioneer efforts to promote, develop and apply advanced composite technology to the aerospace and defence, automotive, commercial and infrastructure markets.
I mentioned innovation as a key to success, and that is nowhere more evident than in Ohio. This whole region breeds innovation, which provides companies like Owens Corning with incredible resources and inspiration.