Meet Phil Dryburgh, he is the owner of the largest glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composite manufacturer in the U.K. His company, Production Fibreglass, recently produced GFRP molds to build the iconic concrete diving boards for the London Olympic Aquatic Center. You can also read the many ways composites are used in the 2012 Olympics in the July/August issue of Composites Manufacturing.
How does Production Fibreglass relate to the composites industry?
Since 1990 Production Fibreglass has operated as a general glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) manufacturer, and has grown from 2 to 250 employees in that time. 90 percent of our work is open molding, 70 percent of that from chopper guns and the rest from hand lamination. The other 10 percent of molding is RTM and another specialist process is used to manufacture battery boxes for nuclear subs. Overall, we operates from three factories across the U.K.
How do you stay competitive as an FRP manufacturer?
Within the U.K. we’re the largest general manufacturer, so our size helps a bit on material procurement and we manage our business ensuring decent labor productivity. We don’t have a particular trick up our sleeve, and a ‘Fred in a shed’ will unfortunately always be cheaper than us, as will low labor cost and products from lesser regulated countries.
What do you see as your company’s greatest accomplishment?
We’ve survived under the same ownership for 22 years in an industry that is famous for going bust and popping up again! We’ve also made money 20 out of 22 years and have been able to flex the business from category to category as opportunities have come to surface.
Why did architect Zaha Hadid use FRP molds to shape the diving platforms in the London Aquatic Centre? Was it a good solution?
The diving platforms were complicated geometric pieces that necessitated a decent concrete surface finish, especially since the finished design would not be painted. Creating the shapes using self-compacting concrete in GFRP/FRP molds was the only viable option to unveil a well-shaped exposed concrete finish.
What were some of the challenges with building the molds?
One of the largest challenges with making molds is building the shape at full scale. The geometric shape often makes split lines a nightmare and pushes back the delivery time. This type of problem is common with lots of projects! It took us a total of six months from when we originally got the plans to the time we finished and were able to deliver the molds – on schedule.
Where do you see the most potential for composite growth?
Regarding high tech carbon fiber (and no one seems to be making money on these) there’s no stand out growth areas for molders our size in the U.K. or Europe. We’re doing well in the water treatment sector at present, but that’s cyclical, though on a long upward trend. Rather, we see the failure of less well-funded and managed molders leaving the industry over the next few years being our growth opportunity – and we’re always looking for other acquisitions.
What trends do you think are driving the U.K. architectural market and why?
It’s still very traditional here in the U.K., with no significant inroads from GRP or FRP. We’ve completed tons of projects for mock stone, major signage, shopping center interior moldings, etc., but there’s no consistent work opportunity from the sector. Instead it fits in to our general molding business.
Has the use of FRP and CFRP changed since you started manufacturing?
We’ve stuck to traditional composite manufacturing processes, only the scale of what we do has changed. Although I’ve noticed that along with the amount that we produce, the efficiency of the process has also been increased. At least here in the U.K., there hasn’t been enough maturity in the composite, or molding, industry to significantly change the perception of the material enough to create the growth it deserves.