Gordon Brown is a veteran of the composites industry, having worked at Strongwell, Owens Corning and Hexcel. Now a consultant, he developed the process behind Flexi-StiX, an idea to take extruded PVC tubing and give it structural purposes. Though the product could be used in many potential markets, it is initially being targeted in the exercise sector as a workout tool.
Why did you focus on the exercise market?
When I was marketing director for Strongwell in the 1980s, we were approached by Universal Gym Equipment, a major manufacturer of athletic equipment. Through our discussions with them on composites, they became aware that bending a composite could stretch the fibers and resulted in resistance. They suggested that if we can make something with these properties safely, there’s a huge market for it. We came up with a product that was developed and marketed, but we took a pultruded shape, and ran it through an extruder and put a tight covering of thermoset rubber over it. That gave it a round shape, but there were concerns the fiberglass would splinter in people’s hands. They wanted something over the outside of the fiberglass to prevent that. The product and process was too expensive at the time, and only bent in two directions. So that project was abandoned.
How and why did you come back to that idea later on?
Even though I moved on to other opportunities, that idea never really left my mind. Five years ago, I saw a hollow piece of flexible PVC in a store one day, and I wondered what would happen if I put a pultruded piece of fiberglass down the center of that tube. In all of our thinking, no one ever thought to take an extruded thermoplastic tube and put fiberglass inside it. It was one of those a-ha moments. It ended up being an economical way to make a variable-resistant exercise device. It’s light weight, economical, and safer, and uses standard extruded thermoplastic which reins in any splintered material.
What questions do customers ask about the product?
I’ve had many discussions with people in the thermoplastic extrusion business. Most of them have a vague idea, but then when I say it’s a pultruded round shape, I have to explain what pultrusion is. There is no extruded thermoplastic with any continuous strands fiber such that you can make a reinforced extruded thermoplastic. All they know is thermoplastic resins. You have to explain the composite, and then you have to tell them that the modulus is such that under the same amount of force, carbon and glass will elongate less than thermoplastics, which also results in increased strength and rigidity.