Not just (any old) boatbuilders

Visit Composite Builders

There must be something in the air in Michigan as the ‘new kids’ at Composite Builders add their name to the grand prix sailing directory

Building with advanced composites is no longer a simple matter of combining cloth and resin in a mould, pulling a vacuum and post-curing the laminate, followed by filling, fairing and finishing. The demands of the grand prix marketplace are relentless, with pressure to improve on design and shave off every gram of weight while retaining strength, durability and appearance in the ultimate challenge to marry form and function.

There are surprisingly few practitioners who combine modern high-tech composite fabrication with hands-on experience of sailing at the top level. Similarly, some of the greatest build talent is rarely seen in ‘daylight’, spending whole careers hidden in America’s Cup programmes, pushing their skill sets to the edge in this ultra-competitive arena. Now some of that elite-level composites – and sailing – talent has been unleashed to offer high-end composite solutions for any application in grand prix sailing.

Founded by Brian MacInnes in Holland, Michigan, Composite Builders have been perfecting what MacInnes (now CEO) has learnt over two decades from sailing and project management of the Windquest race programmes in the Maxi, 1D48 and 50ft classes of the 1990s, through six cycles of the America’s Cup and two of the Volvo Ocean Race. His hands-on experience has given him a strong background in the construction of tooling, lamination of structures and their components, performance testing and system maintenance. He has supplemented these practical skills with study of polymers and their application within the aerospace industry.

Production manager Jon Holstrom also brings two decades of Whitbread and America’s Cup experience to Composite Builders, including being lead boatbuilder in the 2000 cycle for Prada. He was part of the Oracle 2017 campaign but left last year to join MacInnes and return to his native Michigan.

This background has prompted Composite Builders to equip their shop with the equipment and staff to deliver the following:

  • 5-axis and 3-axis CNC machining and mould manufacture
  • Custom and production run vacuum, oven and autoclaved parts
  • Pre-preg composite construction
  • Autoclave and pressure vessel curing
  • Fracture mechanics testing
  • Innovative and wide-ranging product testing facilities

Being sailors, the team at Composite Builders can also be mobile and offer on-site composite services wherever they may be needed. And dealing with diverse projects, from architecture to aerospace, they have become adept at using a variety of advanced materials to best match design and function. These include the latest advanced carbon materials as well as other high- performance fibres. With the exception of pre-pregs, all other fibres are reinforced with high- quality resins including bio and fire-retardant resin materials.

In the short time Composite Builders have been open for business they have been busy with projects across the military, marine, energy, recreation and architectural fields… anywhere, in fact, where composite parts of exceptional quality, durability and strength are of benefit, with some custom designs and some short production runs.

A focus on precision (above): Composite Builders’ range of work already extends across a remarkable range of applications, from custom prosthetics for the Winter Paralympics pentathletes (below) with their carefully developed aerodynamics to high pressure and very lightweight carbon hydraulic tanks for Harken – for whom this relatively young company also already provides a diverse spread of other key composite components including sheaves and high-load winch drums. Being located close to the home base of one of the two main backers of the latest New York YC America’s Cup challenge cannot hurt their chances either of being a part of the AC75 ‘experience’ for the next Cup in 2021

For example, when fabricating carbon fibre tanks for Harken’s hydraulic systems, or carbon components for their high-end winch systems, not only do these systems need to meet Harken’s famously exacting specifications, they must also be delivered to the rigorous timelines of a fast-moving and evolving major client.

Composite Builders also manufacture composite components for Ocean 1 Yacht Tenders, who produce some of the lightest, strongest and most efficient custom tenders on the market.

They have supplied carbon fibre turbine blades for kinetic hydropower systems, where each part’s integrity and reliability is vital to its function and safety.

The US Paralympic Nordic skiing team relies on Composite Builders to build innovative carbon sit-skis for 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. Carbon parts from Composite Builders are also used in aerospace: both to reduce the weight and lengthen the productive time of industrial inspection aircraft, and for the Kittyhawk Aerospace Company’s Aero Flyer, an innovative personal aircraft dubbed ‘the easiest and most accessible aircraft ever made’.

With this background, capability and expertise, Composite Builders are ready for any project with demanding specifications. So don’t be surprised to see this shop in remote western Michigan becoming the latest addition to the map of the grand prix sailing industry. And, with Doug DeVos, backer of the New York YC challenge for the 36th America’s Cup, living just around the corner, who knows what Cup builds could be on the horizon…

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