KaZaK Composites Inc. in Woburn, Mass., is not your average pultruder. “We’re fundamentally different from every other pultruder,” says founder Jerry Fanucci, an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D. from MIT.

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Aerospace entrepreneur Fanucci’s team works magic with pultrusion, using unusual materials and giant machines of their own design.

KaZaK Composites Inc. in Woburn, Mass., is not your average pultruder. “We’re fundamentally different from every other pultruder,” says founder Jerry Fanucci, an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D. from MIT. Whereas around 90% of the pultrusion market uses polyester and vinyl ester resins, KaZaK pultrudes a wide range of resins, including epoxies, phenolics, and even flexible polyurethane. Where most pultruders run commodity products like ladder frames and shovel handles day in and day out, KaZaK runs one-off products that include the largest pultrusions in the world—interlocking panels for ship hulls that are 10.3 ft wide, up to 12 in. thick, and any length. At the other extreme, KaZaK produces some of the tiniest pultrusions ever made—less than 0.020-in. diam.

Why the strange company name? To Fanucci, it sounded magical. He came up with it 10 years before he founded the company in 1992. He was on a trip to Sony in Japan, where he heard a presentation on the principles of choosing a good corporate name: It should be symmetrical, have lots of k’s and z’s and x’s, not mean anything, not limit future products, and evoke a feeling. Fanucci also happened to be reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan, which has a dog named Kazak. Fanucci decided KaZaK would be his company name someday. When the company later pultruded parts for an instrument boom on the Cassini scientific spacecraft, which dropped a probe on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn—the one in the title of Vonnegut’s novel—Fanucci knew the magic was real.

 

Extreme pultrusion

In the past, KaZaK’s work was mostly government-funded R&D for the military or aerospace. Lately, the company is getting more into high-value commercial parts, like the ship panels. “We had a mind-set change in 2005 to look for opportunities to produce high-tech commercial parts,” Fanucci says. KaZaK has found six such applications since then and grew from sales of $4.5 million in 2005 to $14 million in 2006. It’s expected to reach $18 million this year.

KaZaK’s giant pultrusions are made on an unusual machine, designed and built in-house with a patented die and using tightly controlled resin temperature, flow, and pressure. This controls fiber-to-resin ratio for good wet-out and low void content. KaZaK built the machine in mirror halves that can be pulled apart to virtually any width. Each half controls half the die’s heater bands.

The machine is currently used to make vinyl ester sandwich panels for ship building, which are more than 10 ft wide, with 3-in. thick balsa cores, and six layers of fiberglass cloth on top and bottom. KaZaK has made these panels up to 200 ft long. Fanucci may eventually license the technology to ship builders because it’s so much easier to produce 200-ft panels on-site rather than transport them.

KaZaK developed a flexible urethane stanchion for naval aircraft carriers that replaces the steel stanchions surrounding flight-deck elevators. These have to retract into the deck so an aircraft can pass, and then extend upward again. If steel stanchions are damaged, they won’t retract, and aircraft may not be able to launch or land until the stanchions are replaced. Stanchions pultruded from flexible PUR can bend 90º, then return to upright undamaged once the load is removed.