At a time when closed molding is on the minds of nearly all composites manufacturers, VEC Technology, L.L.C., (Virtual Engineered Composites) is creating a myriad of possibilities to engineer and build precision composites.
VEC Technology, L.L.C., is a fully integrated company. It has everything needed to take an engineering concept and thoroughly test and refine every aspect of it at its virtual design laboratories in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Its technology and manufacturing equipment are available to the entire composites industry and offer a very unique closed mold manufacturing option.
The VEC system is a comprehensive linkage of part design, patterns, molds, materials, process control, equipment, and part production.
Tools are built using conventional methods. However, the low pressure injection system used during VEC part manufacturing helps eliminate tooling fatigue. The pressure of the water bath supports them and allows tools to be lighter. Both aspects reduce tooling cost, too.
The VEC system’s five-axis router reads the data supplied by part designers and creates the information needed to pattern the mold to exacting tolerances. Accurate tooling, in turn, produces more precise parts, which can reduce warranty claims.
The heart of the VEC system is VEC Technology’s patented floating mold technology. The floating mold tooling is based on the fundamental principle that fluids, such as water, are not compressible in the pressure ranges used in closed molding.
To build a VEC part, the mold is first sprayed with gel coat. The fiberglass is placed in the mold. Then it is closed and a proprietary filled resin system is injected into it. This filled resin system is prepared daily in a self-contained batching system adjacent to the VEC cell.
An interesting aspect of VEC production is that all the secondary reinforcement can be accomplished at one time.
The VEC cell is an automated, computer-controlled, low-pressure, closed mold system. The filled A and B molds are submersed in a water bath that fully supports them. Then the water is heated to the optimum cure temperature.
Mold changes are swift and easy, accomplished by simply unbolting the flanges and putting the new mold on.
Everything about VEC is designed to be visible and improve productivity. The VEC operator literally presses the start button on the HMI (Human Machine Interface) and monitors the entire process. More than 500 part variables are captured in databases at the composites manufacturer’s facility and at the VEC Solution Center in Greenville. Information is available in real time for every part manufactured.
Redundant systems help ensure there is no downtime. A failure immediately activates a back-up, and the failed part is repaired during the next maintenance cycle.
Advancing the use of VEC technology throughout the composites industry is the ultimate company goal. It wants to make VEC Technology a well-known brand with the composites industry’s equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval®.”
For users of VEC technology, cost savings are within easy reach. Controlling the thickness of a part to exacting measurements virtually eliminates waste and over engineering. This precision also has nearly eliminated parts rework, scrap, and failure in the field. A hand-built laminate can be plus or minus 10 percent. VEC makes a positive difference in cost savings when the part is built and positively affects warranty later.
“We think VEC is a better option than other closed molding systems. We believe we build better parts with our two-part closed mold system, and our tooling is less costly,” explains John Wirt, VEC Technology President. “We can do everything from engineering to patterns to molds to parts manufacturing to equipment supply. We are literally a one stop shop.”
A la Carte Services
Pattern and mold-building capabilities, Finite Element Analysis (a method for solving complex mechanical problems using computers), and reverse engineered technology are just a few of the VEC services available for an open or closed mold system. One does not have to buy VEC cells to use the services either.
VEC’s Greenville capabilities include:
Composites manufacturers are quickly realizing the benefits of the VEC system. VEC products, such as golf cart and truck hoods, dashboards, fenders, truck sleepers, fascias, bumpers, institutional furniture, in-ground floor trench systems, and fan shrouds, are emerging from VEC cells in Greenville. Trim Systems in Concord, North Carolina, is installing three VEC molding stations to manufacture parts for Class 6, 7, and 8 trucks. VEC’s advanced engineering services offer manufacturers a great opportunity to do a “preflight” on a part design and work out all the issues before it is ever manufactured. Composites designers, in growing numbers, are taking advantage of these services, Wirt says.
The “green” qualities of VEC invite enormous interest and appreciation from the FRP industry. Genmar® Holdings, Inc., is the majority stakeholder in VEC and has built a VEC facility in Little Falls, Minnesota, to manufacture some of its Larson® and Glastron ® brand boat hulls.
Jay Hood, Genmar Executive Vice President, says emissions were reduced at the Larson and Glastron VEC plant by more than 90 percent. “MACT compliance is a non-issue with VEC,” states Hood. In addition, he says employees appreciate the natural cleanliness of the new facility. It’s healthier and improves morale.
In 1999, VEC Technology received the (Minnesota) Governor’s Award for Excellence in Waste and Pollution Management. The Minnesota Environmental Initiative also recognized the VEC process in 2001, and in 2002, VEC Technology was awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Excellence Award.
Sending People to the Moon
Irwin Jacobs, Genmar’s Chairman of the Board, says, “I am always challenging our staff to find new ways of doing things. We consider ourselves creative, unique; I like to do things that can’t be copied. We were sending people to the moon, but we were still building boats the same traditional ways. In 1997, the opportunity to buy VEC Technology arrived, and lo and behold, there was our chance to improve our products in a very unique way.”
Jay Hood, with John Wirt and their talented staffs, built the Larson and Glastron VEC plant into a showcase for the technology. Today, all Larson and Glastron hulls 24 feet and under are manufactured using the VEC system. “The first day we turned on the VEC system, we built 16 boats,” explains Hood. “We have four VEC cells in Little Falls and each cell has two stations, each capable of building 24 parts per day. Using the VEC system, our 90,000-square-foot facility can build 60 boats per day.”
Larson and Glastron employees were crosstrained and retrained. “We took people out of the lamination environment and taught them to use a computer,” relates Hood. “Do computers worry people? Sure. That is pretty normal, but the HMI used to control the VEC cell is a sophisticated system that is very simple to operate.”
The Larson, Glastron, and VEC employees have worked very hard to make VEC a success at their facility. “It is good technology, and they are proud of it,” adds Roger Cloutier, Genmar President and COO.
The plant is a unique operation in the boat building business. “When you walk into the Larson and Glastron VEC facility, you immediately know it is nothing like any you’ve ever seen,” says Hood. “VEC is so different, so [much more] advanced than traditional open molding. It allows us to control every aspect and variable from beginning to end and replicate it flawlessly, endlessly for perfect, exact results every time.” Forty-five thousand Larson and Glastron hulls have been built since 2000 using VEC. There hasn’t been a single hull failure. That explains why every VEC-built hull comes with a lifetime warranty.
Genmar’s Jacobs says one of the huge advantages of owning VEC Technology is being able to apply VEC outside the marine industry. “Applications outside the marine industry have already surpassed the marine industry applications,” he says. “That’s what we are working toward.”
Experts stated last year that there is an $11- billion potential market for the VEC process. Jacob hints that new VEC applications and plans are on the bubble, and the composites industry can expect big news before 2007. “We are in a critical stage with using VEC in other industries. It could change the face of VEC forever,” he says.
VEC Technology’s Web site, www.vectechnology.com, provides some excellent information, photos, and animation about the entire process.
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