In 2013, CSP purchased a French company out of bankruptcy that had a manufacturing plant in Pouancé. CSP now uses that facility for advanced research and development. Rooney says two reasons guided the acquisition: “From an R&D point of view, Europe has always been on the cutting edge of carbon fiber and other lightweight technologies. In addition, we needed to be overseas to be on global OEM platforms. Quite honestly, you can’t get on their source list if you’re not global.”

That’s true not only in automotive or aerospace markets. IDI Composites International (IDI) formulates and manufactures thermoset molding compounds for OEMs, most of which are in the electrical industry. The Noblesville, Ind.-based company opened a plant in the United Kingdom in 1995 and one in China in 1996. Both facilities produce bulk molding compounds and sheet molding compounds, primarily for OEMs.

Dominique Boyer, left, operations director, and Mickael Aubry, maintenance manager for CSP in Pouancé, France, perform carbon fiber resin transfer molding.

Dominique Boyer, left, operations director, and Mickael Aubry, maintenance manager for CSP in Pouancé, France, perform carbon fiber resin transfer molding.

“If an OEM makes a product in the U.S. and wants to assemble it in China, than they would like the same materials there,” says Jay Merrell, vice president of IDI and its sister company Norplex-Micarta. IDI’s molding materials are “live” products with a perishable shelf life, typically a couple of months. “If you have to warranty material for 60 days, you’ve easily used half of that just getting it to China,” says Merrell. “So we operate international facilities to support our OEMs globally.” IDI also has manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico and France.

Manufacturing materials or products locally isn’t just convenient for OEMs: It also saves them money, most notably transportation costs. Last August, CSP acquired five facilities from Magna Composites, including a manufacturing plant in Saltillo, Mexico. Having a plant in northeastern Mexico has allowed CSP to expand into the heavy truck industry. “In the Class A truck market, where your facilities are located is key because freight is such a big driver,” says Rooney.

And there’s another reason U.S. composites companies open international plants: While business is global, selling is local. “Having a physical presence in the markets you serve and having local access to customers with local employees is critical to success,” says Eric Breiner, president of Dallas-based Fibergrate Composite Structures. The manufacturer of open molded and pultruded FRP grating products has plants in Texas and Querétaro, Mexico, and sales offices in 11 cities on six continents.