Composites Horizons LLC is investing $12 million in new equipment and processes, in part for ceramic matrix composite production in its fourth building in Covina, Calif.
Historically, the firm made high-temperature polyimide and carbon-fiber-reinforced bismaleimide aerospace components for difficult-to-manufacture performance-critical applications.
The business started to pursue the ceramic matrix composites business in mid-2011.
“We were aware of the need for higher temperature jet engine parts,” said Jeffrey Hynes, president and CEO. “Being strongly based on high-temperature polymer composites, ceramics were a natural fit.”
Composites Horizons invested in some equipment and began its initial work with oxide-oxide ceramic materials.
“We produced a number of panels, then simple shapes and then a complex part that was a scale version of an actual jet engine part,” Hynes said.
In mid-2013, “we presented this part with our proposal for a very large contract, and, in November, we were awarded the long-term contract,” he said. “It has been stated that in 20 years most jet engines will be 50 percent composite by weight. A significant portion of this will be ceramic, and we want to play a part.”
The Evendale, Ohio-based GE Aviation business segment of General Electric Co. awarded the contract. Composites Horizons will process ceramic matrix composites for components on an exhaust system for a key business aircraft engine program.
“This segment will grow significantly for us over the next 10 years,” Hynes said.
Physical changes were needed.
Composites Horizons acquired an adjacent 35,000-square-foot building exclusively for the manufacturing of ceramic matrix composites. The space adjoins three leased buildings bringing the complex to a total of 126,000 square feet. The capital investment covers changes and improvements in all four buildings.
Hynes employs 170 now but anticipates hiring as the firm works through its backlog of long-term orders worth more than $330 million.
Composites Horizons purchased a 12-foot-by-25-foot autoclave from ASC Process Systems Inc. of Valencia, Calif., and installed the new unit in July adjacent to an existing ASC 10-foot-by20-foot autoclave. The firm operates other autoclaves from Tarrico Corp. and Thermal Equipment Corp.
In April, Keith Co. of Pico Rivera, Calif., supplied a large sintering oven with capacity of 500 cubic feet and temperature capability of 2,500° F. Another Keith oven is slated for installation in 2015.
Fooke GmbH of Borken, Germany, provided a large five-axis computer numerically controlled milling machine, and CMS SpA of Zogno, Italy, supplied a CNC router. “We already had one CMS” router, Hynes noted. “This new one is identical.”
Coordinate-measuring-machine laser inspection systems came from Faro Technologies Inc. of Lake Mary, Fla., and Nikon Metrology NV of Leuven, Belgium.
In April, Composites Horizons began operating a 4,000-square-foot Class 8 clean room that the firm designed and built as its sixth clean room.
“Composites Horizons has been known as the industry expert in high-temperature polyimides for jet engines,” Hynes said. “Today roughly 80 percent of our revenue is in this market with gas turbine jet engine and nacelle companies including GE, Pratt & Whitney, Snecma, Rolls-Royce, Honeywell and Middle River Aircraft.”
Thomas G. Hynes acquired Composites Horizons in 1981 in a spin out from rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer Aerojet. He moved the operation to Covina in 1982. His son, Jeff, began working there in 1982 while a student and joined full time in 1986.
Since 1987, the firm has doubled in size every four years.
Hampson Industries plc of Brierley Hill, England, acquired the business from Tom and Jeff Hynes in January 2007 and operated Composites Horizons as a subsidiary within Hampson’s aerospace business segment. At that time, Tom Hynes transitioned to chairman of Composites Horizons and retired from full-time duties.
In November 2012, middle-market private equity firm American Industrial Partners of New York acquired five of Hampson’s U.S. aerospace-focused manufacturing and tooling companies including Composites Horizons and formed AIP Aerospace LLC of Santa Ana, Calif. Composites Horizons was reincorporated as a limited liability company.
Now, AIPA in the U.S. employs more than 1,300 at nine companies occupying more than 670,000 square feet for manufacturing functions. AIPA withholds sales figures.
Since 2012, AIPA has opened three new operations including the Covina project and two others in the AIPA tooling group. Also, AIPA made two add-on acquisitions.
Commercial on the rise
While the Composites Horizons’ current engine and nacelle workload split is about 70 percent military and 30 percent commercial, Jeff Hynes envisions change. “This ratio will flip to commercial by 2020 when the latest large contracts are in full production.”
Composites Horizons-made parts exist on the military’s F-35 joint strike fighter, F-18 strike fighter, F-16 fighter/attack aircraft, C-17 transport aircraft and Predator C Avenger unmanned aircraft system and commercial wide-body airplanes such as Boeing Co.’s B787 and B777 models and Airbus SAS’s A350 and A380 aircraft.
Looking ahead, parts from Composites Horizons are slated for next-generation uses on the Airbus A320neo and Boeing B737MAX narrow-body aircraft; GE’s GP7200 engine on Bombardier Inc.’s Global 7000/8000 corporate aircraft; GE’s Passport 20 turbofan engine; and Rolls-Royce Deutschland’s BR700NG regional and corporate jet engine.
Another GE business segment, GE Capital, provided financing for many of the Composites Horizons improvements and touted how GE’s acumen helped the firm.
GE Capital placed 60-second television advertisements, posted the same message on YouTube and published full-page advertisements in 10 major newspapers including The USA Today, New York Post and Los Angeles Times.
The GE Capital message says, in part: “See how we helped our customer Composites Horizons grow by bringing in specialized expertise from across GE.”
A team of GE Lean Process engineers helped Composites Horizons double its speed of manufacturing composite components for aircraft engines.
GE Capital featured Composites Horizons LLC is an advertisement that began airing earlier this year.