Exel is supplying pultruded profiles for the DELOS platforms which are designed to remain on the ocean floor for 20 years. The DELOS platforms are scheduled to be installed in early 2008.
Exel is supplying pultruded profiles for the DELOS platforms which are designed to remain on the ocean floor for 20 years. The DELOS platforms are scheduled to be installed in early 2008.

Finnish pultruder Exel was celebrating the second full year of operation of its Chinese production facility during the China Composites Expo in Beijing this September. The Nanjing facility is an important part of the company's global strategy, as Jönsson and Korpimies explained.

“If you want to be global you need to be in China,” says Jönsson, Exel's President and CEO. “Our aim is to become a global player able to serve customers worldwide. Exel will expand its service offerings globally and serve clients locally in each market.”

The purpose-built Chinese pultrusion facility was constructed on a greenfield site and there is room for expansion. The plant currently employs around 50 people who are being trained to become an integrated part of the company's global team. Worldwide, the company employs around 550 people. The Chinese facility joins production sites in Europe and Australia.

Korpimies explains that the company followed its industrial customers to China, where it is making similar products for them as it is in other parts of the world.

The company's core business, its industrial division (recently renamed Exel Composites) accounts for around 90% of the group's total business. Its products are sold into the transportation, energy and building and construction markets. It is a leading supplier of breakable lattice masts for airport approach lights; these products are used at airports worldwide. The group's second division, Exel Sports, produces a variety of sporting equipment, such as Nordic Walking poles, XC and Alpine poles and floorball products.

International path

Recently, Exel has grown substantially, both from organic growth and via a number of international acquisitions. Following the acquisition of Australian company Pacific Composites in 2006, Exel believes it is now the world's largest, and most international, pultrusion company.

A new organisational structure was introduced in July to reflect the more international nature of the group. The Exel Composites division is now organised into two Business Areas – Europe, and Asia Pacific. Europe is headed by Vesa Korpimies, who also retains the position of Executive Vice President of the Exel Group. Asia Pacific is led by Grant Pearce (previously managing director of Pacific Composites), who is also Senior Vice President and a member of the Exel Management Group. A new function, Operations, has been established and this is run by Callum Gough, who was previously Manager of Exel's UK/Belgium operations. Gough is also acting Senior Vice President Operations and a member of the Management Group.

Innovation

In Europe, Korpimies reports business is focused on developing new products and new applications in the transportation, building and construction markets – applications which take market share away from traditional materials.

"Application areas expand all the time,” he says. “We need to think 'out of the box' in all applications. The composites industry also needs much more innovation and to make end-users aware of composite alternatives."

Pultrusion accounts for only around 3% of the composites industry, according to Korpimies, but there are lots of opportunities for pultruded products.

"We need to communicate the advantages of the material,” emphasises Korpimies. “The industry is also very fragmented. Consolidation is required. Our customers and suppliers are consolidating."

One example of the innovative thinking that Exel is talking about is its involvement in the DELOS (Deep ocean Environmental Long term Observatory System) project. The DELOS system will be used by oil company BP in the Atlantic Ocean off Angola to gather data on the underwater environment in the deeper regions of the ocean that the company is gradually moving into in the search for more oil and gas resources.

DELOS will comprise two floor platforms, each 8 m × 8 m × 4.5 m tall, which will be situated on the ocean floor at a depth of around 1400 m. Each platform is made up of two parts: a docking station that is deployed on the ocean floor at the start of the monitoring programme and remains there for the 20-year project duration; and a number of observatory modules that are designed to perform specific monitoring functions.

Once deployed each module will have enough battery and storage capacity for autonomous operation for at least six months. Towards the end of the six months a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) will recover the modules and take them to the surface for service, calibration and data offload.

The docking station consists of a robust triangular composite construction. Composites were selected to withstand the corrosive effects of the seawater. A major research project was conducted to determine the long term effects of the deep water immersion on glass fibre composite and the final construction takes this into account. The construction of the composite platform is being carried out by Exel company Fibreforce Ltd in the UK.

Exel facts

The Exel Group consists of the parent company Exel Oyj, which operates in Finland, and ten operating subsidiaries, including Exel GmbH in Germany, Exel Composites NV in Belgium, Exel Composites GmbH in Austria, Exel USA Inc, Exel Composite Materials (Shenzhen) Ltd, China, Pacific Composites in Australia and Fibreforce Composites Ltd in the UK.

The company focuses on the design and manufacture of composite parts using pultrusion, pull-winding and continuous lamination technologies. It has two operating divisions: Exel Composites (formerly the Industry Division); and Exel Sports.

Exel is listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange and had net sales of €112 million in 2006.

The two platforms will be delivered to Ocean Labs in Aberdeen, Scotland, where they will be fitted with the underwater data collection systems and from there they will be transported to the BP operations in Angola. Installation is expected to take place early in 2008 with the first data becoming available six months after that.

Going forward

Exel's goal is to be market leader in carefully selected market segments, based on its composites expertise. Its objective is for profitable growth through strong organic growth and strategic acquisitions where necessary. The focus of this growth is the Industry Division.

In its interim report for the first nine months of 2007, Exel reports net sales of €85.4 million, up 4.1% over the corresponding period of 2006. Operating profit in the first nine months was €4.1 million.

The Industry Division's net sales for the first nine months of 2007 reached to €79.5 million, up 2.4% from 2006, and its operating profit was €11.3 million. The Sport Division's net sales in the first nine months of 2007 fell 32% from the previous year to €9.7 million, and it recorded an operating loss for the first nine months of -€7.6 million.

For the industrial division, growth was mainly a result of the acquisition of Pacific Composites and new profile applications in Europe. The market for custom-shaped profiles is also growing. The transportation, energy, and building and construction sectors were particularly strong. The company notes that the carbon fibre supply situation appears to be improving; it says it is currently seeing a shortage of only some special types of carbon fibre.