What Creative Pultrusions Inc. accomplishes with fiber-reinforced polymers appears absolutely alchemical. The magic resides in the pultrusion process. Dan Harvey reports on how the 37-year old subsidiary of Hill and Smith is extending its technological wizardry throughout the world.
When it comes to fiber-reinforced polymer composites, Creative Pultrusions Inc. (CPI) is the recognized world leader. It achieved this standing in two ways: first, by mastering the art and science of pultrusion and, second, by forging important partnerships and business relationships.
Pultrusion is a continuous manufacturing technique in which reinforcements are saturated with a resin, otherwise referred to as the matrix, and pulled through a heated die. The die is in the same cross section as the profile being manufactured. The heated die initiates the polymerization process and the saturated glass is laminated together in seconds.
The result, adds Troutman, are the strongest fiber-reinforced profiles that survive the most corrosive environments better than wood or many metal product options. Moreover, the resilient but lightweight output is environmentally friendly.
Typical resins utilized throughout the industry include polyester and vinyl ester. CPI concentrates on innovative applications of pultruded profiles manufactured in a polyurethane matrix. “Two things separate us from the rest of the world’s pultruders: our experience with direct-inject technology, where we directly inject resins into the dies, and our use of polyurethane resins,” says Troutman.
Polyurethane, he points out, takes a good composite and makes it even better in terms of strength and damage tolerance. “It offers attributes not available with polyester or vinylester systems.”
SUCCESS WITH COOLING TOWERS
The company contributes its talent to business relationships that not only further its own cause but also advances pultrusion applications in a range of settings and sectors. For instance, in the cooling tower industry, CPI partnered with the Fort Worth, Texas-based Composite Cooling Solutions, L.P. and the Baltimore Aircoil Company. Within this tripartite arrangement, CPI provided the requisite custom-pultruded fabricated profiles for tower structures and components.
“As cooling towers are a large pultrusion market, the partnership proved to be one of our biggest success stories,” relates Troutman. Fiberglass cooling towers represent a significant advancement in field-erected cooling tower technology. According to CPI, applications include office buildings, hospitals, universities, airports, automotive assembly plants, semiconductor facilities, power stations, steel mills and chemical/petrochemical refineries.
“We combined our manufacturing technology with the partners’ cooling tower industry expertise,” adds Troutman. CPI’s contribution, its unique resin system, optimizes design structure and reduces construction time and, in turn, costs. The resin system enables CPI to manufacture high-performance, custom-pultruded shapes that enable the design, construction and operation of cooling towers using fewer columns. Further, the components demonstrate superior ultraviolet protection and chemical resistance.
ACQUIRED BY HILL & SMITH
Similar symbiosis underscores a recent acquisition that brought CPI beneath the corporate umbrella of Hill & Smith, a United Kingdom-based construction and building products corporation boasting more than 20 subsidiaries that serve international transport, infrastructure and construction markets. In September 2008, it purchased CPI, which will play a key role in the expansion of Hill & Smith products.
“The acquisition hasn’t changed much from our end. Our management team remains in place,” says Shane Weyant, CEO of Creative Pultrusions, Inc. “However, the acquisition is opening up markets for us in Europe and the rest of the world. At the same time, it has opened doors for Hill & Smith. They’re capitalizing on our pultrusion expertise, to help build their business sectors internationally with the introduction of composites.”
Two years earlier, Hill & Smith, through its U.K.-based subsidiary Redman Fisher, had established a strategic relationship with CPI. Specifically, CPI provided technological assistance to support Redman Fisher in its production of pultruded glass reinforced plastic products at its Telford, England factory.
Thus, with the acquisition, CPI now has two manufacturing sites: Alum Bank and Telford. But the Pennsylvania facility remains the larger operation. “We have 20 production machines in Alum Bank and one in Telford,” says Troutman.
The Alum Bank facility, a 24-hour manufacturing operation that encompasses 160,000 square feet and has 175 employees, possesses leading-edge pultrusions production capabilities. Its design-to-delivery approach includes computer-aided design, engineering, tooling and plating (accomplished with precision grinding and CNC machines), prototyping, fabrication and assembly (drilling, routing, sawing, punching and bonding).
Quality control covers a wide range of testing capabilities including full-section bending, tensile, flexural, compressive, short-beam shear, impact strength, weathering, water absorption, electrical performance and flame testing.
THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS AND COUNTING
CPI established mutually beneficial partnerships right from the very beginning. Robert D. Sweet Jr. founded the company in Bedford, Pa., in December in 1972, when General Motors asked him to develop a prototype component. “It was a new dunnage system that replaced aluminum, which easily bent,” recalls Troutman.
With only seven employees and a makeshift pultrusion system (comprised of an automobile wrecker and three pulleys), Sweet completed the prototype in 1973. With its first order successfully accomplished, the company was off and running. In its inaugural year, it recorded $250,000 in revenues. By 1976, CPI achieved the milestone sales level of $1 million and moved from Bedford to the larger production facility in Alum Bank, which it further enlarged in 1992 to support increased business. “By that time, we achieved significant growth through diversifying into many other markets,” relates Troutman.
Today, CPI provides fiber reinforced polymer profiles for market segments including aerospace, automotive, chemical processing, construction, consumer, electrical/utility, food and beverage, industrial, marine, manufacturing, infrastructure, military, offshore, oil and gas, petrochemical, power generation, pulp and paper, recreation, transportation and wastewater treatment.
“As far as new target sectors, we’ve begun looking at energy related markets,” reports Troutman. “With the big push toward ‘green’ in the U.S. and the world, you’ll start seeing a lot of composites used in new places and applications. We’re well positioned to address this trend with our resin and fiber-performance technologies, as well as other technologies we’ve developed through the years. We feel this is going to pay off in a big way for us.”
CUSTOM AND STANDARD PRODUCTS
From that first component that Robert Sweet developed for General Motors, CPI went on to design, engineer, develop and produce thousands of standard and custom profiles for a broad range of applications.
For customers with applications that require proprietary and custom-designed profiles, CPI excels at pultruding large structural profiles in various resins and reinforcement packages. Custom fiberglass products include the aforementioned cooling towers as well as polyurethane pultrusions, a complete fiberglass sheet pile system (SuperLoc™), custom fiberglass utility products, ballistic panels, fiberglass cable trays, pultruded FRP panels and sludge flights.
“Custom pultrusions for large structural shapes such as bridge decks and cooling towers is the largest part of our business focus,” says Troutman.
However, the company also produces standard structural products such as angles, bars, beams, channels, flat sheets, flat strips, nuts and bolts, rods, and tubes. “But even our standard structural shapes aren’t really what you would think of as ‘standard’ in the conventional sense,” comments Troutman. “We realize that the Achilles heel of composites is stiffness. As such, we have engineered our products to exhibit superior modulus of elasticity characteristics as compared to the competition.
CPI also offers flooring products, fiber-reinforced polymer ladder/rail products, and handle and tube products (for items such as shovels, rakes, shears, tree trimmers, paint rollers, mops, brooms; as well as sports applications such as hockey and lacrosse sticks, golf clubs and baseball bats). In all cases, the products are lightweight, high-strength, durable, dent resistant, crack and splinter proof and non-conductive.
CPI, which has enjoyed 10 percent annual growth in recent years, has formulated a “21st Century Vision” that involves increasing its global presence through strategic partnerships. Further, its mission is to be the best manufacturer of pultruded composites in the world. But the company might consider tweaking the mission statement – that is, replacing “to be” with “remain.” After all, CPI is already there. Right now, it’s their game to lose.