Suppliers of FRP piping and tanks have been called FRP Fabricators, forever. I think this comes from the early days when fabricators built anything and everything from tanks to pipes to washer hoods to feed troughs. Today, the FRP industry is much more refined in many ways, yet there is still not a consistency in fabrication practices across the fabrication community. What I mean to say is that when you examine FRP fabricators, the range of manufacturing practices is extraordinarily broad, from very basic to more coordinated and integrated manufacturing practices. As an example, today there are still fabricators that build pipe and tanks by hand lay-up methods only, just as it was done 50 years ago. Materials are better and the understanding of composites is greatly improved, but the execution can be still the same.

The majority of fabricator’s implement some form of filament winding practices, whether helical winding, chop/hoop winding or 0°/90° winding. Even in filament winding the level of detail and execution can vary widely. Speaking in general, most of today’s innovation comes in areas such as vacuum infusion and in processing of dual laminates and thermoplastics. There is not a strong priority for advancement and improvement of FRP manufacturing practices and efficiencies.

For the FRP industry to stay competitive and viable, giving consideration to other advancing materials, it’s time for the fabrication community to take a couple of steps forward. Continued research and development is critical to the sustainability of nearly every business and industry. We are approaching a step-change of expectations for FRP suppliers from Buyers. Very soon being identified as an FRP fabricator will be cast of negative connotation, i.e. being an FRP Fabricator will be related to a “Jack of all trades (in FRP) and master of none”. It will be the true Piping Manufacturers, the Tank Manufacturers that will have the advantage and rule the day. When I say, a Manufacturer vs. Fabricator, I am talking about a company that is organized, optimized directed with precision to efficiently manufacture piping or tanks. There are and will continue to be only a few that will do both efficiently, because each requires unique shop arrangement, tooling and expertise. Fabricators will need to define themselves.

It is already happening! There are those that say “Yes, we can do pipe” and there are other that say “We Do Pipe, meaning very well, with a very high level of quality and execution. The same applies to tanks, some do tanks well and others can do tanks. In execution and in the final product, this is evident.

The world is becoming more competitive and those that are not a least challenging the mean are going to have difficulty competing in the near future. My message to Plant Owners and Engineers would be to look for those FRP manufacturing companies that have a clear focus and have a reputation of good communication and quality products. Food for thought.

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FRP Fabricator vs. FRP Manufacturer

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