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How Tower Composites have Transformed their Production through Reusable Silicone Vacuum Bagging Technology.

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"Now any part that comes in, wherever possible I will prioritise the reusable system. I know if I have lots of parts to do- just put a silicone bag on it, it’s so much easier."- Ian, Tower Composites.

Context

We got together over zoom with Ian Flavell from Tower Composites, UK. From only launching Tower Composites in 2018, he now has over 40 silicone membranes on the shop floor. Through integrating our reusable fiRST system, Ian was able to fast track and scale his new business in the space of a couple of years.

We wanted to have an open and honest discussion with Ian about how his modern company have drastically scaled production of automotive and building composites parts, all while maximising profits through this system. This valuable insight comes from a hands-on business owner who is still working amongst the moulding manufacturing himself. Through personal experience and sheer drive with our system, Ian is now an active representative for us at AHC and he often trains and distributes for us in the North of the UK.

Tower Composites now have over 40 reusable silicone vacuum membranes on their shop floor. These range from automotive parts to construction
"The young guys don’t want to get into fibreglass anymore, it’s a horrible sticky smelly industry as we all know. So applying the silicone membrane process took away that required higher-skill level. Don’t get me wrong- people still need to be switched on- but it’s certainly an easy process to implement and manufacture.”
"Now any part that comes in, wherever possible I will prioritise the reusable system. I know if I have lots of parts to do- just put a silicone bag on it, it’s so much easier. I’m using the product every single day in my own business."
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Ian's Background & Launch of Tower Composites

In 2018, he founded his own company, Tower Composites. He began using silicone membrane technology with the help of Alan Harper Composites, transitioning from traditional methods to the reusable silicone moulding process. This switch was motivated by the declining availability of skilled workers for hand lay techniques and the challenging working conditions associated with traditional fiberglass processes.

“We changed mainly because of the sheer skill level that is required in the UK to do hand lay chop spray- its sort of running out. There’s no one out there anymore that can come and operate. They are but they are a lot older. The young guys don’t want to get into fibreglass anymore, it’s a horrible sticky smelly industry as we all know. So applying the silicone membrane process took away that required higher-skill level. Don’t get me wrong- people still need to be switched on- but it’s certainly an easy process to implement and manufacture.”

Ian has been working with composites for nearly 30 years, primarily using traditional hand lay chop spray techniques. In 2018 he launched Tower Composites to manufacture building & automotive parts.

Ian Flavell Founder & CEO of Tower Composites
Ian Flavell from Tower Composites

Business Transition

Finding a part that may be basic in design or where there is a high turnaround or volume needed is a good place to start with selecting a mould to trial for reusables. We often suggest this so that companies and their employees can get used to the process on a simpler mould before going all out on more complex designs. This means you have time to learn how to optimise and operate the membrane. Then once confident, it makes it easier to take it up to transfer the knowledge to a more complex design.

“It mainly came down to the volume I had to achieve for a customer. We had the demand to turnaround 20 parts within a week, and I thought I’m going to have to get in a serious about of labour to pull that tight turnaround off. Don’t forget at the time when I set my business up I only had one mould. And I had to try and turn that one mould around 20 times in a week- I would have had no hope! It was a flat system and quite simplistic. So I thought lets go down the silicone road and trial it out. And thats what we did. And we’ve never turned back.

Now any part that comes in, wherever possible I will prioritise the reusable system. I know if I have lots of parts to do- just put a silicone bag on it, it’s so much easier. I’m using the product every single day in my own business. That makes it easier for people to see it’s working for us, and feel inspired enough to give it a go through us as a distributor.”

"We now produce these flat roofs in just 17 minutes. This significantly reduces production time, which is crucial for GRP components. The faster we can produce and deliver these components, the better our lead times are for our customers, enhancing overall efficiency and satisfaction.”
"On top of this, there is hardly any waste. Now we can manufacture the part very accurately, so there’s not really any trimming to fill the skip."
"You’ll see our posts on linkedin & social media of how much nicer our workshop is- its a far cleaner environment.”
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Key Benefits of Silicone Membrane Technology

Silicone membranes significantly reduce material usage and waste. Clients can consistently expect high quality, lighter in weight yet high strength parts, due to improved consolidation of fibre (higher fibre to resin ratio). In addition, parts have little to no variability due to the precision of the reusable membrane and materials measured for operation.

“One of the biggest advantages for me is the cost savings. Starting a new business is expensive—you need customers, but you also have to invest a lot upfront. With traditional hand lay or chop spray methods, there is a lot of variability and waste.

For example, a customer who switched to silicone membranes sent us a part they were making. Their method resulted in a part that weighed 9 kg, with one person spraying and unsure of the exact amount being used—it could be 9 kg or 11 kg depending on the day or operator. We produced the same part using a silicone membrane, and it weighed exactly 1.6 kg. This demonstrates a huge difference. When we combined the parts they make daily, they weighed 17 kg for the lid and base. Our silicone membrane version weighed only 4.7 kg. This significant reduction in raw material usage shows how much money can be saved over time, especially at scale.

On top of this, there is hardly any waste. Now we can manufacture the part very accurately, so there’s not really any trimming to fill the skip. You just have to grind off the edge because the part is pretty much made and calibrated to the size we require.”

Manufacturing time is drastically reduced. Complex parts that previously took hours to produce now take minutes, improving overall productivity and lead times.

“It's also a huge time saver. For example, we manufacture flat roofs for VW and various complex Versalic pods. Using reusable silicone membranes, we now produce these flat roofs in just 17 minutes. This significantly reduces production time, which is crucial for GRP components. The faster we can produce and deliver these components, the better our lead times are for our customers, enhancing overall efficiency and satisfaction.”

The work environment has become cleaner and safer, reducing the unpleasant conditions typical of traditional fiberglass work.

“We’ve all been in chop shops where people have been spraying and there’s fibreglass all over the floor & people hand laying. You walk in 5 ft3 and you walk out 6ft 2- by the time you picked up all the fibreglass off the floor. You’ll see our posts on linkedin & social media of how much nicer our workshop is- its a far cleaner environment.”

Initial Resistance

Transitioning experienced workers to the new technology was challenging, but they eventually embraced it due to the improved working conditions and ease of use.

“We started using silicone membranes for roofing panels, which are flat systems, back in September 2018 when I first collaborated with Alan to create our initial bag. At that time, I had three employees who had spent most of their careers doing hand lay or chop spray. Originally, to get them to change wasn’t easy as they are old school- they’ve been doing it all their life. Now, if you asked them to go back into handily you’d have no hope, absolutely no hope whatsoever.

Some initial resistance can often come from employees feeling concerned and potentially threatened because they’ve been doing their process and skill for so long- but as soon as they realise how it makes their life easier- the switch flips and they don’t want to go back anymore.”

Operational Support

Alan Harper Composites provided continuous support, helping to resolve issues and optimise the manufacturing process.

“They support us every step of the way, collaborating with us on everything. In our first process, sourcing the right materials was challenging, and we couldn’t quite get it right. Instead of blaming the membrane, I always assume there’s something I need to improve. We work together to find solutions to any issues that arise during the membrane’s life cycle. For instance, we had a problem with a membrane due to heat-drawing metal inserts, which was a design fault, not an issue with the membrane itself. In these situations, we contact Alan or the AHC team for technical support and discussions to find solutions. It’s common to encounter glitches with unfamiliar technology, but with their help, we adjust and get it functioning correctly. The product is excellent; sometimes, it just needs a second opinion to ensure everything is right.”

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