Per capita, there may be more square feet of carbon fiber in Rhode Island’s East Bay than anywhere else in New England.
A boatbuilding hub for more than a century, the coastline from Warren to Newport is now home to marine-industry manufacturers happy to utilize their knowledge of composite materials in applications for the air and ground as well as water.
GMT Composites of Bristol typifies Rhode Island’s increasingly diversified, modern, marine manufacturer with approximately half of the company’s sales coming from customers with no connection to the ocean.
“When I first became involved in the company in 1990, advanced composites were a new field and the marine industry was really leading all industries, even aerospace,” said GMT Composites owner David Schwartz. “We were able to utilize materials and processes for very large structures, like 100-foot masts, where the aerospace guys were afraid to use a new material because if it failed there would be a disaster.”
GMT was founded in 1984 by a group of fiberglass and composites experts, including Eric Goetz, now of nearby Goetz Composites.
At the time, composites were still a relatively new technology and GMT was one of the companies exploring the different things you could do with them.
Goetz was focused on building whole hulls from these new materials, while his partners saw an opportunity in building boat components, such as rudders and spars.
In 1990, Schwartz bought out Goetz and took over GMT, while Goetz founded Goetz Composites, also in Bristol, which has gone on to build hulls for America’s Cup yachts.
But the component business has been good to GMT, which has made carbon-fiber booms, masts, rudders and boarding ramps for racing sailboats and mega-yachts.
And applying carbon-fiber techniques to a variety of smaller products has led GMT naturally into diversifying beyond marine applications.
GMT’s list of projects now includes medical devices, computer-chip pallets, robot arm hands and Navy sonar housings.
The company’s sales are now almost evenly divided between marine and nonmarine uses, according to sales and marketing director Jonathan Craig.
“We have always done projects that use the expertise we have,” Craig said. “On the government, nonmarine side it has been quiet recently with the sequester and we anticipate some pent-up demand.”