Composites Alliance of Rhode Island | Targeting Industry Sectors: An Interview with Susan Daly
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04 Oct Targeting Industry Sectors: An Interview with Susan Daly

The Composites Alliance of Rhode Island has chosen to target three industry sectors in their efforts to help member companies develop new business opportunities. Those sectors include Transportation Infrastructure, Defense and Architecture/Design. In this interview, Susan Daly of the Composites Alliance looks at the thinking behind the approach and updates us on the developments in each sector.

Composites Alliance (CA): Can you tell us how the Composites Alliance decided to target specific industry sectors?

Susan Daly (SD): Many of our member companies have or are diversifying beyond their work in the marine industry and looking to increase business in different sectors. In our efforts to support them, we realized that a broad approach of telling everyone about our member companies and what their capabilities are was not getting as much traction as quickly as we had hoped. We decided that targeting specific industry sectors would be more effective. Once we chose those sectors we developed a tactical approach: find out who we need to create relationships with and build those bridges, determine the questions that need to be answered, explore what the opportunities and challenges are. So for the Alliance and our Steering Committee, that was a big shift in our thinking: Let’s zero in.

CA: When you look at each sector, is there a template or a parallel approach that can work in each one? Or is each sector unique?

SD: First off, when it comes to each sector, our Rhode Island businesses have different levels of experience. Take, for example, Architecture/Design: we have companies that have built a wide range of architectural elements and larger structures, so we have experience and expertise. In Transportation/Infrastructure, we don’t have companies that have broken into this sector in a big way yet—but the growth potential is there along with the political will to invest in improving our infrastructure.   The use of composites in each sector is also at a different stage, and there are different requirements to getting composites more widely accepted–so each sector is unique. But when you look at the role the Composites Alliance plays, we act as a facilitator and a convener: we connect professionals in each field with composites experts to have a dialogue, to determine the challenges and opportunities, to define the next steps to keep moving forward. Through all these efforts we are mapping out where we are and where we need to go in each sector. We are also an advocate, and individuals such as Governor Raimondo and Senator Whitehouse have participated in our events; they understand the expertise that is resident in our state and believe in the potential of Rhode Island composites companies to expand their businesses and diversify, and to create jobs.

CA: Let’s talk about specifics in each sector. How has the process gone in Architecture/Design, and what are the plans for going forward?

SD: We held an event during Design Week RI in September, and over 20 design professionals—including architects, academics and civil engineers—came to learn more from composites experts. We are also talking with the educational institutions in the state. For example, Roger Williams University has architecture and engineering programs and they are interested in having their students better understand composites. URI has an engineering program, and IYRS is engaged in this area. We are working with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Institute of Architects to host a symposium next year; the participants will be architects and design professionals along with composites experts. Through all these efforts, architects are learning more about the applications of composites and the capabilities of Rhode Island-based companies; at the same time, we are gaining a better understanding about what these design professionals care about and the parameters they work in, such as building codes.

CA: I know you’ve already hosted a symposium in Transportation Infrastructure. Can you detail what is happening in this area?

SD: We had a great symposium this summer that drew composites experts from around the country as well as individuals from both the federal and state Departments of Transportation—and that event gave birth to a working group that is continuing to move the process forward. The group includes experts from our member companies and the American Composites Manufacturers Association, civil engineers from the Rhode Island DOT, academics from URI, and staff from the Alliance; the group is meeting regularly and we are exploring the possibilities for a pilot project in Rhode Island. The DOT has already utilized composites, for reinforcement, for example, but in this sector it is more of a crawl-walk-run approach: boat builders have always had a high tolerance for risk and they push the envelope, and civil engineers need to focus on public safety.  So together we are charting the path for going forward. There is also a Transportation Infrastructure event on October 28 at URI, and I’d encourage our members to learn more about it.

CA: How was the decision made to focus on defense, and what is happening in that area?

SD: We sit next to an amazing resource and a potential partner in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport. NUWC does a lot of R&D and has people who know how to deliver on what needs to be built. But there is also a push to rapid prototyping and how to commercialize some of the work they are doing–so we are building out that relationship. We plan to host a symposium so individuals from NUWC can learn more about the capabilities of composites and Rhode Island-based companies. There is also a process for companies that want to work with NUWC, so we are looking at the best ways to walk our member companies through that process. In essence, we are working from both sides when it comes to defense.

CA: Going forward, do you see these target areas changing?

SD: I expect that this process of targeting different sectors will evolve, and that we will see the need in future to add in other industries and refocus as opportunities for Rhode Island composites companies become apparent.

CA: If any of our member companies are interested in learning more about these target areas, or want to get involved, what should they do? 

SD: The first step is to contact me (sdaly@rimta.org / 401-396-9619). We are making these efforts on behalf of our members, and this targeted approach is being put in place to help their businesses. They can also keep an eye on our Resources page, where we post updates about the different industry sectors we are targeting.