Ottorino Ori, Business development consultant for composite materials

JEC Composites Magazine speaks to Ottorino Ori a well-known Business development consultant for composite materials and tooling industry, to ask his opinion on the current trends of the composites market and the future developments to come.

Ottorino Ori, Business development consultant for composite materials

10 minutes, 30 secondes

Ottorino Ori has been responsible for economical projects, in defining project milestone and contractual aspects. His broad skills and long career have given him a deep understanding of the composites industry and related technologies, from the international market to the main European OEM. From the Montedison in the 80’ to the production of hydrogen tanks, he has a clear view of the composites industry. We asked him to share with us his point of view.

JEC Composites Magazine: You have been working for the composite materials industry for a long time, you are not a material engineer but a physicist, where did your interest in composite materials originate from?
Ottorino Ori: “In fact, I began to recognize the smell of styrene as a component of the SMC in 1995, almost ten years after graduation. The Italian national industry in general and the composites sector in particular, were very active in the two decades 1980 and 1990.

In fact, in 1991, the Tencara Shipyard functioned as a specific research center on composites for the entire Montedison Group, which in turn allocated a total of 250 million dollars a year to research on composite and polymeric materials. Sums that appear in line, if not higher, with those allocated today by the main world’s chemical groups.

This Alfa Romeo’s hood was designed to include the upper section of the fenders; its innovative shape was presenting two narrow tails close to the windscreen and for lamps placed in deep cylindrical undercuts formed in the tool. The production of that part did stimulate the whole sector, even the SMC was explicitly formulated for that demanding – pure Class A – molding. The daily demand was 120 pieces delivered to the Arese plant in primer.

In 1995, I saw for the first time the miracle of SMC, that is how a kind of whitish mat made of a substance that looked like window putty to me, could be transformed, placed in large molds, operated by enormous vertical presses, heated with diathermic oil flowing in metal pipes scattered over here at over 200 degrees. And after a few minutes, the noise of the press control units marked the opening of the mold and the birth of perfect, white shiny and complicated artifacts such as the “cofango” of the Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider or the door of the F355. Surprising even for a physicist used to work on important projects (I remember with pleasure that in ENIRICERCHE where I spent the first years after graduation, we were already talking about fuel cells). In fact, what made me passionate about composites materials was the fact that they were used by the automotive production world with the obvious corollary of requests based on the “everything-and-now-and-perfect-and-almost-for free” that characterizes automotive OEMs. A crazy way to manage productions and apparently illogical that you can only appreciate or reject. I liked it and still I do.”

JEC Composites Magazine: What is your predictions on the market growth rate and its acceleration over the next five years? In your opinion what are the key factors driving the FRP market?
Ottorino Ori: “A widespread sentiment in the global market speaks of at least a doubling of the use of composites in key sectors such as aeronautics, marine, wind turbines, minicars and, finally, the battery packs of electric vehicles. I think that a large increase is indeed possible. But, attending with a certain frequency development meeting of composite parts in various fields, I often touch “by my hand” the technical aspects that limit the use of FRP parts. Let’s start by saying that there are industrial sectors where composite pieces have no rivals since a long time and others where they are continually challenged by aluminum or other plastics (as for standard automotive chassis and bodywork elements). Technically, the production rates, the minimum achievable thicknesses, which in turn affect the weights, the absence of “heavy bonding” in the assembly of the sub-assemblies, the ease of design and painting, are distinctive elements in favor of aluminum. These almost trivial observations, however, are not willingly accepted by many composite experts. FRP technologies in turn, meet with a range of relevant technical characteristics and requirements, such as the shape freedom, low thermal and electrical conductivity, resistance to chemically aggressive environments. Unfortunately, FRPs suffer some disadvantage represented by the problems related to the recyclability, which could limit or even reduce their development.

To me it seems that the FRP market, to further develop and maintain the positions it has conquered, must necessarily follow a trend, in fact already underway, aiming at thermoplastic solutions, favoring (where possible) composite structures in which the fibers are also in thermoplastic and not just basic matrices. Thermoplastic FRPs have as well the advantage of limiting bonding in favor of welding processes. Another key element in favor of the use of composites, both thermosetting and thermoplastic, is the availability, currently lacking, of materials that can be molded in the press and at low pressure. This element would make it possible to maintain production rates suitable for many sectors with mass production, while at the same time reducing the costs of the molds and presses used.”

JEC Composites Magazine: New production methods, new concepts, new materials for an effective cost reduction, many concepts have changed over the years: we would like to understand which, in your opinion, were the salient moments and events that brought about the greatest changes.
Ottorino Ori: “Thinking about mass production, I think I can say that the greatest change that has pushed the development of the use of composite parts in the last thirty years is the decrease in tool prices thanks to CAD systems that have drastically reduced lead times for part and tool design and the increased performance of numerical control machines for the milling of all types of molds, both in resin and metal. I await, but I am skeptical, the same propulsive thrust that is said will come from the making of molds using 3D techniques.”

JEC Composites Magazine: For instance, the awareness of the importance of energy saving has led the aeronautics to the increasing use of carbon. Lighter, stronger, greener has become a mantra for (almost) all industrial sectors. FRP composites as well face competition from other materials such as aluminum, titanium etc. in which context are they irreplaceable?
Ottorino Ori: “Knowing only some industrial sectors, I will necessarily give a partial evaluation and I apologize in advance if I will only talk about some applications. Starting from industrial or agricultural vehicles, it would be very difficult, from a purely economic point of view, to propose a return to metal in the case of large FRP components with sophisticated form and functionality, even if in the presence of considerable weight of the FRP parts. I am thinking of the high-visibility roofs of trucks, real domes of composite material, or the tractor’s hoods that could never return to the solid but square metal shapes of forty years ago. There are also areas in which composites are intrinsically irreplaceable thanks to their physicochemical properties. An aircraft radome must be structurally performing and radiolucent and therefore finds the only possible solution in the composite. Also, structural elements in contact with salt water or other corrosive liquids should preferably be manufactured in FRP. Then there are sectors that, similarly to the nautical industry mentioned, dealing with parts of complex geometries and / or considerable dimensions, as in the case of certain aerospace details or terrestrial wind turbines, from the beginning have found the natural solution in composites thanks to the relative cheapness, compared to metals, of the production equipment.”

F360 has been the first serial car manufactured at Maranello with SMC underbody parts. The set did include both front and rear underbody panels, the 4-wheel arches, and air conveyors. Also in this case, the low-density structural SMC was explicitly formulated (at the time relative density of low density SMC was in the 1.5-1.6 range), successfully contributing to the weight target of the whole car. For the spider (convertible) version the set of SMC parts delivered by TGS to CTS, the supplier for the openable roof, including a very beautiful and SMC-challenging Class A cover.

JEC Composites Magazine: The environmental topic is omnipresent and all-encompassing, sometimes one gets the impression that it is a label to add to acquire market value, but what is real behind the term “green”, fiber-reinforced materials will never become ecological, environmentally friendly, “green”?
Ottorino Ori: “The fact that thermosetting composites are not suitable to be recycled or reused, is, as I said above, in my opinion the enormous actual limit. We need solutions that are not there yet. I would like to mention a recent project dedicated to the reuse of “any almost flat composite part” to create sheets and slabs of adequate thickness and finally produce industrial products by CNC machining. Instead, if we say “green” meaning constituents such as resins of organic origin, I don’t think it’s as a great idea, I will better explain the reason in the below.”

JEC Composites Magazine: What do you think about replacing glass and carbon with basalt, flax, hemp, bamboo etc. Besides marketing, what is your opinion on the so-called “natural” resins? What about thermoplastics?
Ottorino Ori: “It’s already some years that with natural fibers dispersed in thermoplastic bases, (the material looks like a brownish slab with an apparent consistency of cotton wool), are produced technically very beautiful and complex structural elements such as the door panels adopted for large-scale automotive production. These artifacts are interesting precisely because they express the best of the characteristics required from composite materials, lightness, integration of multiple functions, high productivity given by the production in the press and recyclability and are produced by means of a rather sophisticated molding process which involves forming and back-injection at the inside of the same mold.

As for flax and other fibers of vegetable origin, I can only remember that their use is recurrent in the history of composites and that it seems to me that there are sectors that have recently re-propose this kind of composites, perhaps relying more on the aesthetic content of the fibers, such as linen. Basalt deserves a different discussion. More than forty years ago, in Russia, homeland of heavy technologies, energy-intensive, in which the fusion of basalt into fibers, (an operation that takes place at very high temperatures well beyond the melting point of the glass) was proposed as that would allow the re-extraction – again by high-temperature combustion – of the fibers from the artifacts produced by lamination. The interest in the use of basalt fibers for recycling purposes has never taken off, certainly due to problems related to the availability of materials and the cost of the processes and materials involved. Although today we all better understand the importance of reuse, I don’t think basalt is a road that will be reopened. Of course, I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

On the other hand, I have a very negative opinion on resins from renewable sources. In practice, it would be a question of using enormous quantities of agricultural land, fertilizers, energy, and water to cultivate plant species intended to produce resins with chemical processes that would have an energy and environmental impact obviously comparable to traditional chemical productions from petroleum derivatives. In my opinion, this approach would lead to severe environmental damage.”

JEC Composites Magazine: Smart self-driving cars, electric or hydrogen powered, in your opinion what will be the trends for the next few years?
Ottorino Ori: “I do not think that in Europe it is possible to pass, at a legislative level, to a real autonomous driving level and I will imagine some adjustments to assisted driving to increase road safety, I am thinking above all the case of fleets of trucks. On the renewable energy side, I am convinced that hydrogen represents the technology on which the industry will focus predominantly in the coming decades, also dragging most electric vehicles in this direction.”

3Pump Impellers: special pumps, transferring up to thousands of cubic meters per hour, pose demanding requirements in moving aggressive liquids, from sea water to corrosive acids. Impellers molded in FRP do represent a valuable industry solution and, to operate almost everywhere, studies are currently in place for developing anti wear special coatings. Courtesy Argal, Vitre.
Pump Impellers: special pumps, transferring up to thousands of cubic meters per hour, pose demanding requirements in moving aggressive liquids, from sea water to corrosive acids. Impellers molded in FRP do represent a valuable industry solution and, to operate almost everywhere, studies are currently in place for developing anti wear special coatings. Courtesy Argal, Vitre.

JEC Composites Magazine: You have worked in different sectors of the composites industry, which project gave you the most satisfaction?
Ottorino Ori: “It is impossible to choose among the various products which I have helped to develop in this quarter of a century. I remember with pleasure having attended in Maranello the first assembly of the aerodynamic bottom of the F360 produced by the then TGS in lightened SMC, and still occasionally printed for spare parts by NTET, an Italian company based in Piacenza. It felt like to see a movie and it was nice to know that we had given technical and productive help to the construction of the car.

Among recent projects I like to recall, again with NTET, the development of the hoods for a new agricultural vehicle destined to the American market, characterized by large panels, large numbers, large molds, large presses, large containers. I was particularly struck by the intense co-design work carried out with technicians never met in person who, thanks to the truly effective use of call conferences, followed a regular path. We felt the pleasure of the final customer in receiving the large SMC panels and assembling the first machine thousands of kilometers away from the manufacturing site.”

JEC Composites Magazine: Work in progress: which projects and which new materials in your future?
Ottorino Ori: “It’s a time full of activities in many sectors. I believe that the problem of cost remains an actual limitation of FRP materials in comparison with metal alloys. That said, if for example, we focus on projects for the hydrogen market, it is very interesting to look closely at the current race towards the construction of type V tanks (without liner) capable of withstanding pressures of use of 100 MPa. The technology must first improve the basic composite material, creating reinforced prepreg materials, such as towpreg, with superior geometric, mechanical and impregnation characteristics that are currently lacking on the market. An example is COMEC Innovative, builder of special machines developed by Giulio Trevisan, we know how much research and know-how are needed to optimize these machines and those for filament winding, the construction technology of real tanks. The presentation made by Comec together with Huntsman at last JEC World, provided clear indications on the next steps to be taken aiming at scalable and highly efficient production lines for the tanks construction.

Currently, I am also dedicating myself to the research for special surface treatments, that is for example, to give composite products abrasion resistance. I see it as a way of extending the use of FRP materials in industrial areas such as the fluids transport which I think can become an important market for composites materials. I will gladly keep you updated.”

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