Expansions, new facilities signal economic uptick

Investment activities in the U.S. and Europe are in the news of late, giving solid, if sporadic, indication that in 2011, the economic outlook for the global composites industry will continue to improve.

Investment activities in the U.S. and Europe are in the news of late, giving solid, if sporadic, indication that in 2011, the economic outlook for the global composites industry will continue to improve. Examples include Ershigs Inc. (Iuka, Miss.), a supplier of engineered fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) products for the power, mining, chemical, pulp, paper and wastewater industries. The company announced on Nov. 30 an expansion of its operations in Iuka, including construction of a new facility at the Tri-State Commerce Park. The new $1.62 million (USD) building will house the large-diameter cylinders the company manufactures until they are shipped out on barges. The expansion will create 52 new jobs. The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) worked closely with company and local officials to help facilitate the project. MDA provided funding to Tishomingo County for public infrastructure improvements, and provided additional funding to assist directly with this project.

In California, Composites Horizons Inc. (CHI, Covina, Calif.) announced that it is undergoing a major expansion program to support recently signed new contracts. CHI is part of the Aerostructures & Composites division of the U.K.-based Hampson Group. Prior to the expansion, CHI’s facilities were housed in two adjacent buildings in Covina. A third building, adjacent to the other two, will provide an additional 41,000 ft2/3,809m2 of space, which represents an 82 percent increase. Renovations of the existing buildings include a 2,300-ft2/214m2 expansion of a polyimide cleanroom. The expanded site also includes space to accommodate machining, final assembly, trimming, coating, inspection and measuring operations, with additional room to support projected growth. The three-building complex will give CHI the opportunity to centralize all its operations, including fabrication, assembly and delivery functions, as well as management and engineering offices and accounting services. The project includes an investment in new processing equipment, including a 6-axis FIDIA K414 CNC mill with rotary table, supplied by FIDIA SpA (San Mauro Torinese, Italy), a Flow waterjet trim center, built by Flow International (Kent, Wash.) as well as several pieces of part inspection equipment.

On Dec. 13, Vest-Fiber ApS (Tarm, Denmark), a fiberglass fabric cutter and kitter that serves wind turbine blade manufacturers, announced that Moberly, Mo., will be the location for its new U.S. manufacturing facility. The company reportedly will make a $2 million capital investment in a production facility that will employ 50 people. The State of Missouri provided $128,318 in incentives through a program that provides tax credits to companies that create a predetermined number of jobs, among other qualifications. The program also offers recruitment and referral assistance. Vest-Fiber produces fiberglass and materials for the composites industry. The company’s products and services include cutting and kitting of multiaxial reinforcement fabrics (glass and carbon fiber); structural foams/core materials used in sandwich constructions; nonwoven plastic materials and vacuum-bagging consumables; and ready-to-use resin infusion net-set kits. Vest-Fiber plans to have the new Moberly facility operational this month.

The preceding announcements are consistent with a recent statement by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM, Tempe, Ariz.), which reported on Jan. 3 that economic activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in December 2010 for the 17th consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 20th consecutive month. ISM’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) registered 57.0 percent, following a November value of 56.6 percent. A reading above 50 percent indicates that manufacturing is generally expanding; below 50 percent indicates that it is generally contracting.

We saw significant recovery for much of the U.S. manufacturing sector in 2010,” says Norbert J. Ore, chair of the ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, noting that recovery in autos, metals, food, machinery, computers and electronics overcame weakness in industries tied to housing. Additionally, manufacturers that export benefitted from global demand and the weaker dollar. “December’s strong readings in new orders and production ... should create momentum as we go into the first quarter of 2011,” adds Ore.