Continuous-fiber-reinforced sheet manufacturer Lingol Corp. is adding equipment to target the thermoforming market for sale of rigid thermoplastic composite laminates.
Wallingford, Conn.-based Lingol laminates thermoset and thermoplastic composites mostly for machining applications.
``We are one of the very few to manufacture both'' types of material, said Peter Lindenfelser, president and co-owner.
``Thermoforming of [thermoplastic] composite sheet began in Europe'' more than a decade ago and is gaining visibility, said Arthur Buckel of San Diego, thermoforming industry guru and a Lingol consultant.
Lingol managers ``know what combinations can give you parts,'' Buckel said. Variations can include ``any number of polymer materials combined with glass - single strand or cross woven - or carbon fibers. The material does not expand or flow, and it is pulled into the mold.''
Using sheet reinforced with fibers provides the same properties as wet composites, Buckel said. Thermoplastic sheets can be trimmed with a diamond-studded routing cutter, heat welder, laser device, water-jet cutter, steel rule and forged high dies. The sheets also can be stacked and electrically welded together, he said.
Lindenfelser said Lingol can combine different resins and substrates to make a unique laminate, or to vary the properties within a laminate.
Lingol was established in 1974 to manufacture composite laminates for customized thermoset uses on industrial machinery, particularly wear applications and situations requiring significant length.
Twenty years later, Lingol began making thermoplastic composites primarily for customized constructions in high-wear parts, such as veins for original equipment manufacturers and the industrial market.
In 1994, ``we had one customer who was buying a carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic laminate from Avetel, a subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum Co. in Bartlesville, Okla.,'' he said. ``When Phillips closed Avetel, the customer encouraged us to look at making it for them.''
Lingol managers ``felt it made sense for us because we were a niche manufacturer, and we had an inclination toward new things,'' Lindenfelser said. ``One of our principals had done [research and development] for American Cyanamid Co. for over 30 years.''
Lingol seeks prospective customers with in-house development capabilities to try thermoplastic laminates as a material innovation. ``They can experiment at low cost'' easier than contract manufacturers, he said.
Lindenfelser noted that the aerospace and medical industries - ``where improvement in performance yields a real premium'' - often adopt new materials earlier than other industries.
``Ours is a different process from other people doing this,'' Lindenfelser said. ``The only thermoformer I know to be working exclusively with continuous fiber reinforcements is in Washington state.'' He was referring to Advanced Thermoplastic Composites Inc. of Spokane, Wash.
``When you design from scratch, you can take advantage of what the materials offer,'' he said. ``Ours is as completely different from neat resin as resin is different from metal.''
Lingol's approach to equipment is different. ``We purposely do not buy one complete machine,'' he said. ``We buy rolls from one person and hydraulics from another.''
Lingol assembled a pilot machine for test purposes in 1994, and, when it worked, a production machine was created in 1995.
``After that, it was the road of fits, starts, bumps [and] discoveries that accompany any new effort of which I have ever been part,'' he said. The intervening years have generated ``disappointedly slow growth,'' but the horizon is getting brighter.
Now, ``the thermoplastic sales are growing rapidly, so much so that we are putting in a new machine that will increase our capacity by 175 percent,'' Lindenfelser said. For various components, ``we have requests for quotes to six to eight people'' in equipment manufacturing.
Lingol can make sheets with lengths up to 330 feet but has seen a declining market for thermoset materials as domestic manufacturing operations have slowed.
Length can benefit a processor. In punching parts, for instance, mandatory placement of safety guards can cause loss of material at the front and back ends of a sheet. ``You may lose 3 inches at each end of a 48-inch piece,'' Lindenfelser said. ``A longer piece gets a longer run.''
Depending on material, sheets with thickness of less than one-eighth of an inch generally are thin enough to be shipped in rolls up to the maximum length. ``In the thermoset area, a few people make composite sheet in rolls of more than 120 inches, but most stop at 60 or 96 inches,'' he said.
Lingol employs 18 and occupies 23,000 square feet. The company ships product throughout the domestic market, with some export trade. Privately held Lingol does not release sales data.