George Craig has worked in the composites industry for 28 years. As the president of Fiberglas & Plastic Fabricating Inc. (FPF), he was inspired by his late brother, Dr. Robert John Craig, who he says invented polymer concrete and started the Concrete Canoe Competition at Michigan State University in 1988.
Craig recalls working alongside his brother while Robert earned his PhD. “I helped him break thousands of resin cups until he figured out exactly what it took to make polymer concrete,” he says. “This was before computers, so we had to take a before and after picture of every single one.”
Today, Craig oversees sales and development at FPF Inc., a small, hands-on custom fiberglass shop in Indianapolis that specializes in mold construction, mold design and RTM molding.
How did you first get involved in composites?
I built a canoe 40 years ago when I was 14 or 15 years old. My brother and I asked my mother if we could take over the family room and take a couple weeks to build it. After about a year-and-a-half she asked, ‘Are you ever going to get this thing done?’ The house smelled like resin!
So you got the canoe built and it worked?
Yes, it did. We took it down the Tippecanoe River quite a bit because we lived in West Lafayette, Indiana. It weighed so much. It was just a monster.
How did you transfer those early experiences with composites into a career?
I was involved with my father in agricultural engineering, primarily building hog barns. We developed a feeder made from polymer concrete. We needed someone who really knew how to make a mold, so I asked around and learned about Fiberglas & Plastic, where I am now. The company made the molds for us, and my relationship with FPF went on from there. I did some castings for the company and eventually joined the company in 1989.
What’s new at Fiberglas & Plastic Fabricating?
We’ve been working with a revolutionary new liquid fiberglass called MIR (Micro-fiber Infused Resin) by MIRteq Microfiber Composites in Australia and distributed by Composites One. It’s a resin material that already has the glass micro-fibers blended into it, so you don’t need traditional laminates. It’s a tremendous advance to our industry.
Since using it, we don’t have to worry about gel coat or bloating glass. You have better glass content. It’s a stronger material that has better elongation. We also don’t have to worry about emissions, so it eliminates the difficulties with regulations. The only advance that’s close—maybe six months away—is zero styrene resin. The reason FPF was able to grasp MIR so fast is because we’ve been doing RTM molding since 1982. We were able to take the RTM molds, shoot them with MIR and away we went.
How has the industry changed in the nearly 30 years you’ve been involved?
Probably in development of product materials. That part changes about every six months!
What markets has FPF expanded into through the years?
Niches where steel dominated. We’ve done a lot of work with funeral coach companies, changing over doors made from steel to ones using fiberglass. Same thing with the aftermarket motorcycle industry. They dabbled in fiberglass, and we’ve taken them to a different level using the closed mold process—either the RTM or the MIR product.
What challenges do composites continue to face against traditional materials?
Strength used to be one, but we seem to have overcome that. Another would be repeatability. When you stamp something out of metal, it’s the same way every time. Repeatability is something we work on everyday at FPF, whether it’s hand lay or closed mold. Sometimes you do the same thing you did the day before, and all of a sudden the outcome is totally different. We don’t have a controlled environment. This is a people process, not a push button process.
Where do you see the industry headed?
I see a reduction in government regulations. The only way to do that is to eliminate what they have to regulate. That’s where zero styrene comes in. I think you’ll see that in the next year or two. There are two resin companies I know of that already use it in some injection processes, but they have to be heated. It’s difficult to work with, but the industry is taking the right steps to move forward.