By Eric Peterson | Aug 15, 2022
Salt Lake City, Utah
Filament winding machines and software
Engineering Technology Corporation (ETC) developed the first CNC filament winder in 1976, followed by the first filament-winding software, FiberGrafiX, in 1978. Owned since 1999 by Zoltek -- which was in turn acquired by the Toray Group in 2014 -- ETC hasn't strayed far from its roots.
The company continues to build on its 60-year legacy in composites, says Courteau. "The company was started up to support the composites industry in Salt Lake," he explains. "That still is the primary market we operate in."
ETC is well-known in composites for its catalog of filament winders and software for the composites manufacturing, as well as the ability to make custom machines for specific applications.
Filament winding "is a manufacturing process used for tanks, cylinders, pipes -- mostly axisymmetric parts," says Courteau. "We have dabbled and expanded in quite a few different markets over the years, but that one is still the backbone of the company."
While ETC supports composite manufacturers, he clarifies, "We do not manufacture composite parts. We do not compete with any of our customers, and our customers all make parts. We have no interest in that. We just provide equipment to them."
Courteau says the company is focused on automating tasks that are typically labor-intensive for clients to allow for lights-out operation. "That's becoming a really big trend with the labor shortages right now," he says. "Everybody wants to reduce their head count."
The company is an authorized FANUC integrator, and now builds automated work cells for clients. "Typically, composites have had very labor-intensive processes," says Courteau. "It's been I think a very slow transition in some of the composite manufacturing areas compared to other areas as an industry. Filament winding, thankfully, is pretty readily automated. A filament winder takes care of the entire winding process. In order to automate around that, you just need to be able to load and unload parts, you need to keep your materials running, so that's just your fiber and any resin that you have."
Courteau says automation decreases process times by 25 to 50 percent for most customers; small parts typically have the highest gains. For example, winding filament around a 50-liter tank takes 11.6 minutes per tank without automation, and that number drops to 7.6 minutes per tank with automation.
The company's top market sectors include aerospace and defense as well as a wide range of manufacturers of composite-overwrapped pressure vessels for applications ranging from hydrogen storage to firefighting.
Domestic manufacturing makes for steady demand in aerospace and defense. "We have very few competitors in the U.S. that are able to offer the same type of equipment we do," says Courteau.
ETC builds custom filament-winding machines "that no one else can provide in the U.S.," he adds. "We have a lot of longstanding relationships. Very large, very well-established companies trust us with their IP."
Manufacturing takes place largely at the company's 60,000-square-foot facility in Salt Lake City. "Obviously, we're purchasing control systems, motors, things like that off the shelf, but as far as the actual machine frame, we do about 75 percent of that in-house," says Courteau. A little more than half of the company's employees are involved in production, he notes, and ETC has welding, water-jetting, and machining capabilities internally.
"We do work with outside vendors for fabrication, typically CNC providers in the area with larger CNC capabilities, but we do all of our own assembly and testing in-house. That's something we always keep here. It gives us pretty good control of our schedule and our quality."
After a "pretty stable" period from 2016 to 2018, annual growth has averaged about 15 percent in the years since as the composites industry experiences a global growth spurt. "I do not expect that to slow down," says Courteau.
Challenges: "We're having the same problems as other companies right now," says Courteau. "It's lead times with our supply chain and the labor market in Salt Lake City. Utah has one of the strongest and most competitive labor markets. We have the opportunities for growth, and we are now just making sure we can support that with our staffing."
Opportunities: "It's the hydrogen market right now that seems to be driving a lot," says Courteau. "There's a lot of money being put into R&D and trying to get companies started up on that."
Automation is also driving sales for ETC, he adds. "There's a lot of people who just want the ability to put out a lot of parts and they want to do it efficiently. That was not always the case 10 or 20 years ago. . . . We get approached more and more by people who want a turnkey solution."
Needs: ETC needs new employees in engineering, sales, and accounting "Eventually, we'll be hiring more in the manufacturing area," adds Courteau. "It's really just finding that workforce and finding the right talent."