Advanced Fibre Cluster Geelong member GMS Composites has a long history of innovation, beginning when its founder arrived in Australia three generations ago from the UK aged just 14 and sought mining work in the Northern Territory before finding a niche making spark plug insulation for Spitfire fighter planes.
The family-owned business is now run by Managing Director, Sam Weller, the grandson of that entrepreneur, and for more than two decades has been manufacturing prepregs – composite materials in which a reinforcement fibre is pre-impregnated with a resin matrix. The company supplies its high-performance formulations to demanding advanced markets in sporting and leisure, automotive and motorsport, marine, defence, aerospace, ballistics, mining and general engineering.
Mr Weller put his stamp on the business when he expanded beyond more traditional electrical and thermal insulation products into specialist and custom products to service the wider composite industry.
He was able to leverage GMS’s knowledge and its existing supply chains, harnessing industry know-how to provide solutions to the wider composite industry.
“That has been my legacy to a certain degree, leading the pivot towards composites and higher growth areas. It has been an evolving process.”– Sam Weller, MD at GMS Composites
GMS, which has conducted its R&D work in partnership with Deakin University across a range of product developments, exports to New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Japan, mostly supplying the auto and motorsport industries, and also touching on marine, in particular yacht building.
Mr Weller is confident there is plenty more growth in advanced fibre markets.
“The trend is growing,” he says. Demand for lower emissions “will continue to push composites in terms of light weighting, strength and the like.
“There are plenty of other materials also looking to adapt and meet the requirements, so it is not a free ride, but I feel the fundamentals are there for strong growth within the industry.”– Sam Weller, MD at GMS Composites
The Advanced Fibre Cluster will play an important role, he says, and the team at GMS Composites hope to continue to develop relationships with existing and potential partners within the Cluster and to contribute to growing the industry as a whole.
“Many of the members are customers of ours and we feel that it is important to support such initiatives to help grow the industry. From our perspective, we feel that we have got a role to play in the supply chain,” Mr Weller says.
Looking to the success of industry Clusters in Europe, he says it is important to model that in Australia and build a stronger industry collaboration which would benefit the wider sector.
“These things take time, and it is not always easy, but the Cluster is on the right track,” he says. “A lot of boxes are being ticked and as this industry grows, the opportunities and the benefits will bear fruit.”
GMS provides innovative technical solutions, supplying its advanced fabrics as well as resin systems, adhesives, cores, vacuum consumables, tooling boards and more finished goods like sheet material, tubes and panels.
GMS customers can access a range of woven carbon fibre fabrics as well as multi-axial (non-crimp) ultra-light carbon fibre structural fabrics produced using “tow spreading” technology, enabling them to be used as a finishing layer in laminate. Both standard and high modulus carbon fibre grades are available.
A number of hybrid fabrics are also available, for example aramid and carbon fibre, and carbon fibre/glass, which can add additional properties to the final laminate.
“I am continually reviewing our business model and ensuring we are satisfying the demands of our current customers but also building our capabilities and our knowledge base.”– Sam Weller, MD at GMS Composites
“It is ongoing. We are quite adaptive and as new opportunities arise, we are positioning ourselves to support our customers and new customers in their fields.”
In one example of a clever solution, GMS supplied Honda in Japan with a flame-retardant system for its GT racing series.
“Our ability to quickly react to the opportunity and supply in a short time period in relatively small volumes was appealing to Honda.
“They had access to manufacturers and suppliers around the world but ended up going with us. We understood what they were trying to achieve and understood their needs. We quickly developed a solution and were able to supply them.”
It’s a prime example of how GMS differentiates itself with wholistic solutions that add value, not just basic commodities, and Mr Weller is optimistic there will be many more applications requiring this ingenuity, helped along by GMS being an active part of the AFCG.
“In the fields we operate, there are always opportunities presenting themselves and the Cluster positions itself well to be able to facilitate a lot of that industry development,” he says.