Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director for Composites Australia Inc.
GMS Composites which is based in the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong South, Victoria, and whose business origins date back more than 80 years, first started manufacturing prepregs for internal use back in the 1970’s. Today the company is a modern epoxy prepreg composites producer focused on supplying the rapidly expanding high performance fibre reinforced composites markets in Australia and Asia Pacific.
Sam Weller, Managing Director of GMS Composites is the third generation to lead the company. “In the very early days, the company manufactured and supplied spark plug insulators for the Spitfire aircraft during WWII and over the decades has continued to evolve and adopt new materials which led us to where we are today.”
GMS services a range of market segments including aerospace, defence, motorsport, sports and leisure, marine, and rail and road transportation. In addition to its standard prepregs, the company’s portfolio of step-change systems includes resin films, low temperature prepregs, tooling, ballistic, fire retardant and toughened high impact prepregs. GMS also distributes a full range of technical fabrics, resin systems, cores, vacuum consumables, adhesives, tooling products and mould releases. In addition, this one-stop shop also offers through its network, compression/press moulding of prepreg parts and sheets as well as CNC machining and finishing of composite parts.
“Australian made prepregs are increasingly a viable supply choice” says Sam. “We formulate and develop fibre reinforced custom prepreg systems that are engineered to meet specific needs and performance requirements. Domestic production reduces the risk of volatility associated with transporting prepregs over long distances and having to commit to large volumes that require cold storage. We also have comparatively fast lead times compared to imported goods. Our OEM customers are able to accelerate new product development programmes that enable them to bring new products to market faster.”
With Australian composite manufacturers continuing to exploit niche markets on the global stage the attraction of using prepregs due to their ease of use and cleanliness is becoming ever more apparent. Well suited for production of parts in volumes of <5000 p.a., prepregs also help remove a lot of the hidden production costs in regard to handling, storing, mixing and disposal of resins from production facilities.
While GMS Composites’ standard and bespoke manufactured prepreg products are researched and developed in house, Sam believes in partnering with established R&D organisations to create stepchange. “It’s a process of harnessing the best minds and equipment to ensure we are able to compete at a global level.” The company’s primary research partner is Deakin University but it also works with other institutions such as Swinburne University, Monash University, UNSW and CSIRO, among others.
GMS’s EP540 prepreg was recently specified and consumed by a leading GT racing team in Japan. The team required a flame retardant product that was certified to UL94 V0 which the GMS EP540 had already obtained. After initial trials and testing the GMS Composites Continued product was subsequently used in various parts throughout the vehicle. “It was certainly very satisfying to be part of that GT program in a country which has traditionally been a global leader in advanced composites” added Sam.
GMS’s range of resins systems meet various Australian and International standards. The company has 15 standard prepreg resins systems for fabricating both high performance composite tooling and finished composite parts using vacuum production processing. The Glass Transition Temperature performance of standard resins ranges from 70°C up to 310°C. Sam says that, “The traditional curing environment would be an autoclave which has both temperature and pressure controls. But we’ve developed a range of low-temperature cure prepregs with a choice of epoxy resin systems that can be cost effectively processed at low pressures out of autoclave (OoA) using lower cost tooling and less energy. In addition, we offer a range of resin films for those wanting to use a resin film infusion process.”
Large automotive OEM’s are driving the composite industry to reduce cycle times so as to meet the high volume production requirements associated with the industry. GMS has addressed this trend by recently developing a snap cure prepreg system with a cure cycle time down as low as three minutes. The system is designed for press cure processing where high pressure and heat can be rapidly applied to the part.
Both ‘in’ and ‘out of autoclave’ (OoA) prepregs and resin films are available, with a range of cure temperatures from 55 °C to 250 °C. All standard high performance prepreg resin systems and resin films can be combined with a wide range of woven and multi-axial technical fabrics and reinforcement fibres based on: glass fibre, carbon fibre and aramid fibre, as well as other specialty fibres and hybrid fabrics to suit application performance needs.
This one stop shop is also ISO 9001:2015 accredited and welcomes both low volume development projects and prototypes or high volume production orders.