Plasan relocates automotive composites R&D center in Detroit suburb

Plasan Carbon Composites will establish a sales and technical development center in southeast Michigan in an effort to collaborate more closely with the automotive community on composites manufacturing.

Plasan Carbon Composites (Bennington, Vt.) announced on Dec. 14, 2010, that it is opening a new sales and technical development center in southeast Michigan, in the Detroit suburb of Wixom. The site was selected over a competing location in Tennessee. Plasan’s president, Jim Staargaard, says the new facility will be funded, in part, by $697,000 (USD) in tax credits from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC, Lansing, Mich.), a public business-assistance corporation funded by local and state governments.

Plasan, the source of carbon fiber-reinforced components used on GM’s Chevrolet Corvette (see photo), is developing a high-speed composites production line (pat. pend.) that features cutting, preforming, compression molding, trimming, finishing and painting of composite parts made with out-of-autoclave carbon fiber prepreg. The line is being built around a new Globe Machine Manufacturing Co. (Tacoma, Wash.) compression molding press. Thus far, the company has achieved compression molding cycle times of 17 minutes, and it is targeting faster times in an effort to develop a production-scale manufacturing line that can accommodate automotive industry volumes.

Expected to open in the first quarter of this year, the Wixom facility will house the new production line and will serve as an automotive composites prototyping, scale-up and preproduction facility. Plasan will invest $3.2 million in the facility over the next two years. Staargaard expects that the center’s proximity to Detroit-based automotive designers and engineers will enhance Plasan’s exposure to automotive applications that could benefit from the company’s production capabilities.

The Wixom center is part of a three-pronged shift in Plasan’s business strategy. The company will maintain composites production at its Bennington home facility and will pursue process developments in Michigan. The Wixom team also will continue ongoing R&D in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tenn.), which is aimed at development of a lignin-based precursor for a lower-cost carbon fiber. The R&D efforts in Michigan and Oak Ridge will continue to be managed by Gary Lownsdale, Plasan’s R&D director and engineering manager. The Wixom center eventually will employ 36 people, says the company.