Controlling Its Own Destiny
Composite structures made with epoxy-infused carbon fiber are 30-40% lighter than aluminum and twice as strong. That is why Fibreworks Composites, LLC (Mooresville, NC) has barely been able to keep pace with orders for custom seats and other racing car parts since this high-performance composites manufacturer opened its doors in 2009. A deluge of short run production and prototype assignments from race teams has driven sales growth at an annual pace of 20% or better.
Fibreworks is adept at using a wide variety of composite manufacturing techniques to achieve the customer’s requirements. Most of them involve the use of geometrically complex sculptured patterns and/or molds made from high-density polyurethane foam tooling board. The company initially ordered these from external suppliers. They were expensive purchases, since the 4″ x 24″ x 60″ tooling boards alone cost about $1000 each. That’s before any manufacturing content is added. Worse still, lead times for these blue board tools were painfully long—a week or more. This was a barrier to growth since race teams frequently need their assignments turned around within days.
Fibreworks co-owner Joe Hofmann said, “In 2012, we decided to take destiny in our own hands and purchase a 3-axis router and Mastercam software along with a maintenance license that includes technical support from Barefoot CNC. Today, instead of just making a composite part, we can design, develop and manufacture it. That includes machining all the tooling, molds and patterns in-house and the manufacturing of parts. We are essentially a one-stop shop.”
“We take on a lot of projects where we can provide engineering support from the structural analysis simulation side, to design and put the whole composite package together. This is what large OEM customers are looking for. This is the type of resource that was previously available only in Europe. It did not exist here before at the level we do it now.”
Lead Programmer Alan Crawford said that his advanced CAM programming capabilities give him total control of the router’s cutting tool making it possible to create complex free flowing organic geometries that are so essential for imparting strength into lightweight composite structures. For example, Fibreworks ships hundreds of race car seats every year and creating these geometries for 5-axis machining makes it possible to meet racing industry standards with frames substantially lighter than aluminum.
A major focus for Fibreworks in 2017 is to capitalize on these opportunities by moving to a new 30,000 sq. ft. plant and installing two more advanced 5-axis routers. This will boost existing capacity by 50% or better. As for lead times… Fibreworks is doing its best to keep pace with a very demanding customer base.