This week is National Composites Week. A week we celebrate along with other composites companies around the nation. The purpose, bringing attention to the myriad ways that composite materials and composites manufacturing contributes to the products and structures that shape the American manufacturing landscape today.
But here in SE Minnesota, composites are more a part of our daily lives than in most any other locales around the country. This region is a hotbed of composites and has been for 75 years. Some of the pioneers in composites still operate right here in SE Minnesota.
The Miller Brothers, Ben & Rudy, founded Fiberite in 1947. Already a force in textile fibers, they saw the future in combining those fibers with phenolic compounds and they were off. Hiring chemists and engineers, they kept exploring possible uses for combined fibers and plastics. Eventually they made a key acquisition of another corporation’s plastics division and started a complementary plastics company spinoff. That company, PTC evolved the technology, adding colorant and new processes and equipment to keep up with the explosive market possibilities in automotive, industrial , military and even the budding space program working to take man to the moon. The Miller’s efforts eventually resulted in a company called RTP and has grown to be a world leader in specialty thermoplastic compounding with plants around the world and thousands of employees.
Also significant was the spin-off activity. Numerous companies building on the Fiberite/RTP successes sprung up about the area. Some are still operation today like, We-no-nah Canoe, Strongwell, Cytec, Coda Composites (now Coda Bow) and Geotek. Numerous others were acquired by larger firms and still have operations in the area like Celanese (formerly Polymer Composites), BCF Automotive Interface Solutions (formerly Lake Center Switch), Rawlings (started as Miken Sports), Core Molding Technologies ( acquired Composite Products), Avient (acquired PlastiComp).
All this entrepreneurial activity, with leadership by RTP and a local legislator, led to the creation of the only composite materials engineering major in the country at Winona State University.
All this activity over 40 years of evolution as well as the WSU engineering program created what came to be known as “The Composites Cluster”, as titled by the Minnesota Department of Economic Development. If you range further away from Winona, the list becomes even longer, numbering over 25 firms utilizing composites to supply or make products within a small radius.
PlastiCert includes themselves in the cluster, having chosen to expand here back in 2002. Since then, our founding location has shut down due to offshoring and market pressure, but our Minnesota operation continues to flourish and grow. We specialize servicing OEMS needing not just low and medium volume, but complex and difficult designs required for their products they envision. Some parts we provide our customers were declared the most complex ever seen in a certain resin,
or we were told that a particular part could not be made (it’s been in production for over 5 years now.
We benefit from being located with and participating in our “Composites Cluster”. Our staffing, our services, our support are all based on where we chose to do business. How is your current supplier’s support? Are they having issues making you the parts you need? Have a complex part and or need it to function in a difficult environment? Composites may be the answer. Give us a call. If we haven’t seen it, we’ll help you figure it out.