Several years ago, buying equipment to make that process occur was all most new pultruders needed to gain new accounts and make money. The development of the niche hinged on improvements in equipment and raw materials. Today, however, growth is driven by new applications for pultruded FRP composites, including transportation structures (especially bridges) and replacement of wood and other materials in a wide range of markets. Success requires much more than equipment.
“Many people make the mistake of believing that a successful pultrusion operation is about selecting the right machine,” says Jeffrey Martin, president of Martin Pultrusion Group, a leading independent producer of turnkey pultrusion equipment and tooling that has installed 230 machines in 25 different countries worldwide and has helped more than 90 companies start pultrusion operations. “While the right machine is certainly one very important component, it ignores the greater need of creating synergy between the many different technologies that make up a pultrusion line.”
Martin Pultrusion Group recently branded its holistic view of pultrusion with the moniker MPG 360. It includes processing technology, comprehensive tooling solutions and ongoing training in addition to pultrusion machines. “One key to a successful pultrusion operation is proper engineering before a die is ever put online,” Martin says. “A well-made pultrusion profile represents the convergence of many different technologies fine-tuned to work together in concert. Material selection, reinforcement architecture, forming technology, die design, temperature profiles and line speeds are considerations that will determine production and quality success.”
That viewpoint is echoed by Joseph Sumerak, owner of Sumerak Pultrusion Resource International, which provides both a consultancy and a product-development resource to pultruders, and the former owner of Pultrusion Dynamics Inc. “Today, companies can’t afford to wait for business to come to them,” he says. “If you’re a pultruder, it’s simply not going to happen. You have to have a specific application in place or mind, and proactively match it to the specific benefits pultrusion provides.”
Sumerak says in order for the composites industry to achieve the best possible pultrusion outcomes at the lowest possible costs, its company leaders would be wise to view pultrusion as an applied science. “The key to success along this path is to understand the science of heat transfer, fluid dynamics, reaction kinetics, composite design, etc., and to apply it in a practical and affordable manner to pultrusion process design and control,” he says.
“The correct emphasis isn’t on selling today; it’s on educating,” Martin says. “If we can educate somebody to understand what’s involved in the pultrusion process, it’s relatively easy for them to make a decision about what they want to buy. The challenge is arming industry professionals with that information.” He held a two-and-a-half-day pultrusion seminar in May at his firm’s Oakwood Village, Ohio, conference center. It was attended by 32 composites professionals.