How long have you been in the industry, working on fibreglass projects?
I’ve worked on fibreglass projects for most of my life. I started in Cape Town about 30 years ago. My very first job in composites was repair work for refrigerator trucks doing skins and panels. It was an add-on service in the radiator repair shop – the trucks were standing still and while fixing the radiator, we ended up repairing the refrigerator truck unit.That is where I learnt about fibreglass.
Which other fibreglass companies have you worked for?
I worked for many years at Anvil Fibreglass in Salt River, Cape Town, they shut down pre-covid unfortunately. I started off sweeping the floors, went on to pattern making, grinding and cutting – eventually I ran the factory while the owner moved on to other ventures. I would handle the ordering, delivering, invoicing, design and fitting.
My next job in fibreglass was at BMG Finishing Services where I continued to work with fibreglass for canopies and rooftop tents.
I then moved to Point Break Composites with my brother and I learned a lot more about closed moulding and injection moulding. We imported the machines for injection moulding and, so spent a lot of time on research and development, working on the finer details of fibreglass for injection moulding.
What types of products have you made from fibreglass over the years?
There’s the obvious (lots of pools!) and tanks for fish farming, sewage, agriculture, oil. I’ve also made canopies, garage doors, slides, canoes, rooftop tents, even guard huts, all with open moulding – we designed a mould for guard huts which is still in use today, a very good concept.
At Anvil Fibreglass we also used fibreglass for solid surfaces – fabricated countertops and vanities – and started a new company called Aztec Stone to create those kinds of products for all sorts of businesses, from Health and Racquet Clubs, Blimpie Sub Shop and the Receiver of Revenue.
What type of fibreglass moulding process are you using now?
We can manufacture or manage any type of project with our expertise but on site we mostly manufacture with open moulding. Closed moulding or injection moulding have to warrant the costs. There are different moulding processes with different benefits and different applications.
Describe the open moulding process?
The process for a new product always starts with design. I say “Design is critical to function and manufacture. From dreams, to concepts, to market.”
Basically, a client will come saying, “I have an idea, can you make this?” I then fabricate their product into a pattern. From that pattern we make a mould, then the product.
This process is then to refine the product by taking it through different stages, and to enable any changes needed to be made to the design. Architects and designers are dreamers and they can come up with wonderful ideas, but it may not be practical to manufacture.
I walk the client through the process and explain the methods that will be used to bring the idea to life. Changing the design can also impact costs, for example an open mould will often keep our costs down and mean we can replicate a product easily.
With open moulding we can continue to add to the process. So once we start, we can continue to add layers, we can add other pieces, ribbing, reinforcing etc. Whereas injection moulding you have to set it all up initially, you do the process and then that’s it – your product is what it is with much less flexibility.
And then you move onto pattern making?
Yes, for pattern making these days, if it’s something intricate, then we often have it 3D printed. We use CNC (computerized numerical control), made out of a polyurethane block and then a CNC machine will cut it out and shape it, and from the shapes, this forms the pattern. From this I then make a mould and from the mould I make multiple products.
Patterns can also be quite simple. To make a pool out of polyurethane would be too expensive, so we would generally start off with super wood or MDF and use different fillers to fill in the radiuses and the pattern.
You can also throw a block of plaster of paris, which can be shaped quickly because it’s a softer material, or we use wood as a harder material. I’ve even seen moulds made of aluminium.
Describe the mould making process?
Whether it’s silicon mould or split moulding or any other moulding option, the mould is made in a way that it stays as rigid as possible for as long as possible. It holds the integrity of the shape that you need to do. Your product might only be one layer or might be something that you want to be able to flex and bend. For example a door over a carport, the product is nothing compared to the mould. The mould could weigh 500 kilogrammes and the final product is only a couple of kilogrammes.
Depending on the project, the mould may be made with a high temperature distortion resins and gel coats, high distortion vinyl esters etc, or for a smaller more intricate product with a lot of finer detail, we might use silicone RTV (room temperature vulcanised) rubber first.
I like to use the example of a bronze statue. Here you would make the first couple of layers out of silicon rubber – then you build a case around it out of fibreglass to hold it all together and firm it up – and then you pour in bronze or whatever medium you want to use, then you release it in sections, by taking the fibreglass off and peeling the rubber off – and then you’d have your finished product (statue) standing. This is a process that gives you the finer details.
Once you’ve made the mould then how does it materialise into your final product?
Mould filling systems and techniques are again, very product specific – so with a swimming pool we would require a mosaic pattern from the client that will be applied to the mould.
Then we will apply a gel coat which is the colour of the pool. That is then backed up with a fibreglass layer, a matte and a resin, which is applied and rolled off. We call it ‘consolidating’. On larger surfaces, we use the chopper gun application, which is a spray application – the machine sprays the matte and gloss and the resin all at once.
The product is then trimmed off (there’s always a little bit of excess), often the next day depending on the size and the cure rate and time constraints – it will usually stand on the mould for at least 48 hours before we then demould it and do any post fabrication (for example on a pool, putting in boxes, lights aim flows and the return).
And your dream job?
I really don’t know yet, as it’s the challenge of not knowing what’s next that can be most rewarding in this job. Working with the client to realise their dream and make it a reality.