When the sales team at Rock West Composites works with a client to fulfill an order for something like prepregs, there is an expectation that the client actually understands what is being purchased and how it can be used. Rock West personnel do not need to explain to fabricators all the details of how carbon fiber prepregs work. But what about structural engineers and architects? How much do they know about composites?

In a recent column published by Composites World magazine, writer Dale Brosius discussed his recent trip to Europe where he attended the JEC World conference in Paris. He came back from that trip with a better understanding of how little engineers and architects know about composites. His column makes a very good case that education should be part of selling composite materials to clients who are not fabricators.

Fabricators get it. So do manufacturers who use things like carbon fiber tubing and sheets to manufacture parts. But if the composites industry is to grow as much as experts hope it will over the next decade, more engineers and architects are going to have to be brought on board to facilitate the use of composite materials in everything from infrastructure to automotive manufacturing.

Based on Brosius’ column, here are three reasons education needs to be part of selling composites:

1. They Are Not Being Discussed at the University Level

University programs for structural engineers and architects are excellent at preparing students for the many problems they will have to solve in their careers. Yet in teaching students, very little attention is paid to composite materials. Students learn about steel, aluminum, wood, concrete, and other building materials that we’ve been using this country for generations.

As Brosius explained in his piece, an architect being sent to JEC World to learn about composite materials will be at a distinct disadvantage because vendors are not there to educate about composites in general. They are there to sell products. The architect who knows nothing about composites would be lost at a trade show like JEC World.

2. Embracing Something New Is Hard

An extension of the first point is an understanding that embracing new things is hard for most people. There is a reason new technologies, like composites for example, are described as being ‘disruptive’. They are disruptive because they force people to get out of their comfort zone and try something different.

It’s one thing to make a sales call in the hopes of selling composite materials to a manufacturing or construction firm. It is an entirely different matter to sit down with that firm’s engineers and it’s plain to them how composites can be more advantageous than traditional materials. The education portion is intimidating simply because people don’t like change. But if engineers and architects can be educated before being asked to make changes, those eventual changes will come easier.

3. The Future of Composites Relies on It

The last point to consider is this: the future of the composites industry relies on educating engineers and architects. Just like in any other industry, composites producers have to tap into new markets in order to remain relevant. Should the industry choose to be content with the market as it currently stands, it will be stifling its own growth.

Our industry needs access to bigger and better markets. To get into those markets, we are going to have to educate those in decision-making positions about the advantages of composite materials. We have to create an environment in which engineers and architects are not completely lost at trade shows.

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