Prepreg Product Specialists
TCR Composites, Inc., of Ogden, Utah is a resin specialist that manufactures high-performance prepreg materials used for making composite parts in the automotive, aerospace, marine, industrial and sporting goods sectors. TCR also offers in-house testing services and a full-time research and development department and is devoted to excellent customer service.
“We’re a resin development company,” states Craig Schiffman, director of marketing and sales at TCR Composites. “The resins we develop, we use to produce prepreg products.”
In manufacturing, ‘prepreg’ is used as an abbreviation of ‘pre-impregnated’ and refers to how the composite fibers in a molding material have been pre-impregnated with a resin such as epoxy. When cured, in an autoclave or oven, it all comes together to make parts that are both lightweight and high-strength.
Through research, TCR developed a family of thermoset epoxy prepreg resins made in an ecologically-friendly, solvent-free manner. The company’s resulting prepreg products come in four main categories: towpregs, fabrics, uni-directional tapes (also called UD-tapes) and braided sleeves. All resin systems feature a unique ability to be transported and stored at room temperature, which allows TCR to ship worldwide.
“The main product we sell is towpreg, which is used for filament lining [in tanks and vessels]. We sell to companies that are producing what would be called COPVs (composite overwrapped pressure vessels). We sell a fair amount of material to companies building SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). We sell to people producing CNG (compressed natural gas) tanks. Our future business will gravitate towards hydrogen fuel cell tanks,” says Schiffman.
TCR towpregs boast a patented, thermostat epoxy-based resin system and “are designed to deliver high tensile strength which then gives the end-user the opportunity to design a vessel or pressure vessel with the least amount of material possible,” he continues.
“The second product that we produce is prepreg fabrics. We take resins we’ve formulated, and we’ll impregnate a variety of fabrics – pretty much whatever an end-user wants [including] carbon, glass, aramid (a strong, heat-resistant synthetic) fabrics. We purchase those fabrics from traditional weavers then coat them with our proprietary resin systems,” he continues. Prepreg fabrics are used in the aerospace, medical, recreation, industrial sectors, among others and are available in several different styles, widths and many areal weights.
The company’s third main product is a uni-directional tape, made from a thermoset epoxy resin. Commercial-grade uni-directional tapes are often used in fabricating composite parts that require thick laminate construction and lengthy lay-up times. TCR Composites specializes in heavy weight tape, up to 600 GMS.
“The fourth product we build is prepreg braided sleeves. We purchase braids… then we coat these braids with our resin systems,” says Schiffman. “You can put the braid on a part, and it makes a nice quality, conforming laminate.” TCR prepreg braided sleeves are often used in medical, recreational, aerospace and industrial part applications.
“We do have a fifth product. It’s an adhesive film. We don’t sell a ton of it, but it is an available product,” he adds.
TCR describes the resins used in these products as high-performance. “When we say high-performance, [we mean] the resins can be stored at room temperature, some of them up to one year. Room temperature is defined at about 72 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 to 22 degrees Celsius. They can also withstand excursions to higher temperatures and still have a good shelf life… TCR products do not require freezer storage. Traditional prepregs do require freezer storage,” he explains. If not kept cool, traditional prepregs will cure and harden, rendering them useless.
TCR Composites is proud of the distinctive nature of its products. “We don’t purchase and redistribute anything from other companies. All of our resins are formulated and compounded here in our facility in Ogden,” states Schiffman.
TCR Composites was established in May 1996, initially serving as a business unit of Thiokol Chemical Corporation of Salt Lake City, Utah. Thiokol was a large company with 15,000 employees that offered a variety of products for the space, aerospace, manufacturing, automotive, chemicals and ammunition sectors.
TCR was eventually sold in 2007 to a private company. At present, the company does not have any other branches besides its Ogden facilities but uses distributors and agents around the world to ensure prompt delivery and communication to the customer.
It currently has “around seventy employees,” says Schiffman, and this is roughly the same number as last year at this time. Regardless of their job duties, one thing TCR employees have in common is company loyalty. Many staff members “have worked here for a considerable amount of time,” he says. “The workforce is very stable.”
Having reliable, veteran employees with a wealth of product knowledge means TCR does not constantly have to train new staff in manufacturing techniques and company procedures. This workforce stability is one reason the company is able to turn out high-quality products consistently.
Quality is something on which TCR is extremely focused. The firm is ISO 9001:2008 certified and recently completed the requirements to become 2015 certified.
Maintaining high standards “starts with a culture and a mentality inside the company, that it is important to follow certain guidelines and have written policies and procedures. [This culture of quality] includes the active participation of management to lead and guide the company through the standards of ISO 9001. We analyze and check products that are incoming and inspect products that are outgoing to ensure they meet the standards of the quality policy,” says Schiffman.
Everyone in the company is committed to both “following our QMS (Quality Management System),” and to the concept of continuous improvement that involves “looking for ways to continuously improve our products and services in every way possible,” he continues.
Clients certainly appreciate this dedication to quality. TCR has had some of the same customers for more than twenty years. “People understand the reliability and capability of our products. That comes from our commitment to quality, following what we would consider a QMS based on the standards of ISO 9001,” he says.
In addition to quality products, TCR clients also receive excellent customer service. Clients can customize some orders by selecting what resins, fibers and reinforcement they want, and they are welcome to purchase in small quantities so they can analyze or test the materials. They can also expect a quick product turnaround.
“For most products we have, TCR has a four-week lead time. We can manufacture a product and have it ready to ship in four weeks to the customer. I don’t know if all of our competitors have a four-week lead time,” says Schiffman.
TCR also provides in-house testing services and has a full-time research and development team. The company “has a mechanical test lab that allows us to do composites testing,” he says. “We can offer testing to customers, whether it’s testing our products or perhaps testing something [a client had] made by someone else. We’re quite nimble and get results back quickly.”
“TCR Composites has a research and development department with a chief resin chemist who is quite experienced and educated. He has a small team of personnel that help to do resin testing, resin formulating and provide maintenance on resin because resins do require maintenance from time to time,” he continues.
The research and development department also formulates new resins. “We have about half-a-dozen resins right now in various stages of development. We’re planning to release what we’d call an aerospace-grade resin. It will have a toughening agent in it that allows it to have high fatigue and high impact resistance,” notes Schiffman.
Product development is a careful, steady process. A resin starts in the developmental phase and then is thoroughly evaluated. If the resin passes muster, an experimental version of it might be created that is tested both in-house and by select customers. After all these steps, if the resin is acceptable, TCR moves into commercial production mode to make it “available to the general marketplace,” he explains.
The company regularly takes part in international trade shows. In March 2018 for example, the company exhibited at JEC World, a major global composites event that was held in Paris. “TCR Composites traditionally do four to six trade events a year,” he says.
It also has an online presence, with a website and social media profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. For all that, the company still uses more personal means of promotion. “TCR likes face-to-face contact, as opposed to trying to throw an email to someone. It’s more beneficial to use and more beneficial to the customer if they know who their contact is,” explains Schiffman. To this end, “we ask our marketing or sales team to make sure they’re in front of our customers or potential new customers,” he adds.
When it comes to suppliers, TCR prefers to stick with the same vendors, when possible. Such stability “is what allows us to keep the components that we use to formulate the resins stable,” he states.
In five years, Schiffman says TCR will “still be grounded in our towpreg products. We’ll be selling those for filament wound applications… We’re going to go after business in the hydrogen fuel cell market. I expect we’ll be providing much more towpreg as our hydrogen fuel cell business increases. We’ll be a significant player in terms of providing products to companies producing filament wound hydrogen fuel cell tanks for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) industries, whether here in United States or in Europe or in Asian country. We’ll be part of that mix.”