A host of composite solutions

Currently, two of four PRF’s sites are powered in part by solar energy
Currently, two of four PRF’s sites are powered in part by solar energy

Celebrating its 40th year, Mike Richardson hears from PRF Composite Materials and how its facility expansion and product development projects are helping to ensure the company continues onward and upwards.

As a leading manufacturer and supplier of high-quality woven carbon, aramid and hybrid prepreg materials for the composites industry, PRF Composite Materials has established a reputation for excellent service.

The company recently welcomed Dave Ellson onboard, joining the team in October 2020 as head of operations, and in January 2022 taking over as managing director. Former managing director and founder, Robert Burnell has now moved to the role of CEO and leads product and manufacturing developments and innovation for the company.

PRF’s marketing director, Hannah Khusainova
PRF’s marketing director, Hannah Khusainova

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, PRF Composites’ marketing director, Hannah Khusainova says the company focuses on quality and innovation in its prepreg manufacturing, developing class-leading systems in house, such as its range of tooling systems and visual quality component prepregs.

“We are continuing to lead in product development,” she begins. “We’ve recently launched our Q.tool prepreg tooling technology which can reduce manufacturing times for carbon moulds by up to 50%, also reducing plastic consumables used in the process. Our latest development is our new RP570 FR eXpress prepreg system, which is a snap cure, fire-retardant epoxy prepreg.”

According to founder and CEO, Robert Burnell: “Q.tool is something that in over 50 years of working in the composites industry, I haven’t seen a product like it. Its unique technology offers 50% savings on the cost and time of carbon tool manufacture, with as few as one debulk.”

Bigger and better

During PRF’s last expansion phase, the company upgraded its laboratories with new equipment, including new autoclave, presses and mechanical testing equipment. The company is now planning the expansion of its testing and process capabilities which will be relocated to its factory 2 unit - establishing it as a dedicated innovation centre, focusing on and facilitating further product development.

“We are building on our circa £6 million expansion plan,” Khusainova explains. “This includes a new manufacturing facility, expanding our kit cutting service with new cutting lines, and a third impregnation line - and we’re developing and introducing new products that we believe to be unique in the market.”

PRF’s founder and CEO, Robert Burnell
PRF’s founder and CEO, Robert Burnell

In terms of the kinds of challenges placed on PRF by customers looking for the right materials selection solution, Dave Ellson highlights the demands of technology, cost and delivery.

“Pressures on delivery are due to the shortages and costs are challenging at present due to the market and economic environment,” he states. “Technology is a standard challenge of working in a cutting-edge industry. Working with our customers, we minimise the issues of cost increases whilst maintaining stock levels, and our responsive operating model allows us deal with the urgency required in deliveries and maintain short lead-times. We have invested significantly in innovation and product development, developing products like Q.tool and our fire-retardant eXpress system RP570 FR, which offer measurable advantages to the constructor.”

With PRF’s reputation, Khusainova sees a high demand for quality, alongside technical excellence: “Investment in technology, the relationships we have built with our suppliers and training our team to high quality standards has allowed us to retain and build this reputation for 40 years,” she notes.

Experience that counts

PRF’s 40 years’ experience with technical textiles and its visual quality prepreg for aesthetic parts is particularly noteworthy in the market. According to PRF, customers have repeatedly selected the company for the production of large parts that must be free from flaws and imperfections.

“We are finding that customer feedback on our tooling systems - in particular our RP800 tooling system - show they are class-leading,” states Ellson. “The finish provided on the tool surface is exceptional - even after repeated mouldings. Our RP570 FR eXpress system is also unique: press moulded, fire-retardant components with a cure cycle of only 5 minutes at 160ËšC, alongside our non-fire retardant RP570 eXpress system that can be cured and demoulded in 4 minutes at 140ËšC, with no cycling of the mould tool.”

PRF’s managing director, Dave Ellson
PRF’s managing director, Dave Ellson

Meanwhile, PRF is growing its presence in motorsport and automotive, and has other key areas of renewables, medical and marine. The company works with defence, as well as sports and leisure applications. Its diverse customer portfolio has certainly helped it develop a breadth of experience in terms of customer requirements and processing.

“We are ISO 9001:2015 certified and we’re already working towards ISO 14001,” confirms Ellson. “Sustainability is a major focus for the company moving forward. We’re looking at ways we can improve our sustainability and lower our impact across not only how we work, but also how we transport our products, our packaging portfolio, and even looking at how we can develop products that help our customers improve their sustainability and reduce their impact.”

Currently, two of four PRF’s sites are powered in part by solar energy and have been built with sustainability in mind, such as the company’s PV system in its newest site, which generates 29,965kW of electricity per year and saves 16,676kg of carbon. PRF is also in the process of converting a third site to be powered in part by solar energy.

It’s all about the service

I’m interested to know that while price, delivery and on-time delivery are all givens, what else does PRF see as important to serving its customers?

Ellson points to technical solutions that other companies haven’t considered, rejected as not important enough, or have tried and failed: “When we say ‘Doing things differently,’ we talk about working with our customers on product developments, and we’re also ready to invest in technology that improves quality and provides that which the customer needs,” he notes.

PRF has 40 years’ experience with technical textiles
PRF has 40 years’ experience with technical textiles

So, what truly differentiates one company from the competition? PRF is working with its customers to offer a better solution that benefits both parties, meaning that its gain is the customers’ gain as well.

“Our experience and a focus on product development that is customer-led,” says Khusainova. “And our investments in technology, people and quality allow us to offer measurable advantages.”

Ellson adds that PRF’s customers are particularly satisfied with its customer service, materials and technical support: “We’ve seen the benefit of having long-term relationships with our suppliers and we mirror that with our customers, developing relationships on a long-term basis rather than a short-term gain. This is at the heart of our success story.”

Burnell adds that the company likes to make life easy for its customers: “Doing business should be easy, including business administration and the rest. We try to remove roadblocks for customers and to be open, honest and fair; integrity is a fundamental value at PRF.”

Tried and trusted

I ask whether PRF’s long-standing partnerships - both with the client and supplier – have brought huge benefits, particularly as trusted relationships can lead to a better way forward for all?

“In my view, that is how you should be doing business,” avows Burnell. “We have always focused on quality over cost - and the relationship with our suppliers. These relationships have served us very well and helped in times when the industry is presenting challenges. You don’t have a business unless you have good relationships with your suppliers and customers.”

PRF recently launched its Q.tool prepreg tooling technology
PRF recently launched its Q.tool prepreg tooling technology

The industry has been through a turbulent period like no other, so I finish by asking where next for the company in terms of continuing customer/supplier relationships, its growth and the expansion of the ‘PRF experience’?

“A continued focus on product development, innovation and sustainability moving forwards, as well as continued investment in our technology and people to continue our growth,” concludes Khusainova. “We will be celebrating our 40th anniversary at the Advanced Engineering show, Birmingham NEC as headline sponsors of the Composite Networking area, and we will be holding a reception and inviting visitors to celebrate this fantastic achievement with us!”

www.prfcomposites.com

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