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Fiberforge gearing up at new Glenwood Springs plant

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentManufacturing technician Sean Pursley of Rifle demonstrates the operation of the Fiberforge Relay Station at the new Fiberforge manufacturing plant in Glenwood Springs. The patented Relay Station is a machine used for rapid, high volume production of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite parts.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Add military contracting to the area’s economic diversity, thanks to the state-of-the-art, lightweight thermoplastic parts being created by Fiberforge Corp. at its new Glenwood Springs facility.

Fiberforge, which had its humble start in Basalt 13 years ago, recently expanded into a 24,000-square-foot production plant in the old Coors distributing warehouse on Devereux Road.

The company had been operating out of a 10,000-square-foot facility near Red Canyon until last year. But with a major, long-term government contract moving into the full-scale production phase, Fiberforge needed to expand, chief operating officer David Cramer said.



Since 2008, Fiberforge has been working to design and develop the floor covering for the cargo area in the Sikorsky CH-53K transport helicopters used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

“It’s the largest heavy duty helicopter in the fleet,” Cramer said, explaining that after the helicopter’s engine was re-designed for greater thrust, the manufacturer started looking for ways to reduce the aircraft’s weight.




“The floor area was a significant piece of that,” he said.

Fiberforge’s patented production process to make fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite parts ended up being just what they were looking for. The result is a product that’s 25 percent lighter than the former aluminum flooring.

“We’re now set to provide all of the new material for the Marine helicopters,” Cramer said of the contract, which will extend for the next 15 years or more.

Cramer and Fiberforge chief executive officer Jon Fox-Rubin were among the co-founders of the company in the late 1990s, formed after they had worked with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Old Snowmass-based energy think tank, on what was known as the “Hypercar” project.

“The idea was to create a high-efficiency concept car using the best thinking of the time,” Cramer said. “As we looked at taking the next steps, one of the things we began working on was a concept to make the body structure 50 to 60 percent lighter.

“That’s when we identified the use of composite technology as the biggest need,” he said.

Today, the composite parts produced by Fiberforge are used in such things as Mystery Ranch backpacks and other sporting goods, automated robots, including the iRobot SUGV, a reconnaissance unit used by the military, and a range of parts for the automobile, aircraft and aerospace industries.

“The Marines are the toughest customer, because they are so tough on all their equipment,” Cramer said. “If we can get our product on a Marine helicopter, the rest is easy.”

In addition to manufacturing parts, Fiberforge also markets its patented RELAY (Rapid, Efficient, Layup) Station, an automated processing system for other manufacturers to make their own composite products.

About a half dozen of the machines are currently in use around the world, including automotive parts plants in Germany and Japan, and an aircraft parts plant in Ohio, Cramer said.

Fiberforge currently employs about 30 people, and expects to expand its workforce by one-third over the next year to about 40 employees. In addition to its production facility in Glenwood Springs, the company also has European operations in Switzerland.

Among the key positions the firm is now advertising to fill include a quality engineer and a materials and process engineer, according to operations manager Tina Ogburn.

“Two of our engineers grew up here in the valley,” Ogburn said. “One was with NASA and decided to come back.”

Several upgrades to the former warehouse building to fit the company’s needs used all local contractors, she said.

“We’re excited to be here and to be able to expand locally,” said Susan Goldberg, senior manager for marketing and sales for Fiberforge. “We wanted to expand here in the valley, because this is where we started.

“We have a huge growth plan ahead of us,” Goldberg added. “This is something that really adds to the diversity of the economy and business development for this area.”

Fiberforge has been recognized by Newsweek magazine, The Discovery Channel, Charlie Rose and CNN as a leading innovator, she noted.

The manufacturing processing is enabling the replacement of traditional metals and composites with lighter, tougher and greener materials.

“From day one, we made the decision that we wanted our parts to be able to be recycled,” Cramer said. “The thermoplastic resins we use in all our materials are reusable. The products we create are basically very high-performing versions of the same plastic used in soda bottles.”

Fiberforge is also in the process of becoming a state-of-art AS9100 compliant production facility, which is a designation indicating the highest-quality production standards.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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