Open for business Customers, elected officials tour composites factory

Jonathan Zucker, president of the Intertech Group, briefs Governor Nikki Haley at the official opening of InterTech subsidiary TIGHITCO's new composites factory in North Charleston. In the background is the autoclave where TIGHITCO's composite pieces are cooked to hardness. (Brendan Kearney/Staff)

The autoclave’s door sat propped ajar. Only a yellow foundation occupied the future site of an ultrasonic robotic testing tank. And the floors were so clean and shiny they almost mirrored the ceiling lights.

It’s still mostly empty and production won’t start for another couple of months, but TIGHITCO’s new composites factory in North Charleston is officially open.

A year and a half after Anita Zucker and son Jonathan Zucker announced the subsidiary of their family-owned company would expand locally, the Zuckers welcomed customers and elected officials to Palmetto Commerce Parkway to behold the result.

Gov. Nikki Haley called the plant exemplary of “new manufacturing in the country” and “a reason to smile for the state.” Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor Sr. carried on the governor’s familiar refrain. “It’s all about jobs, jobs and more jobs,” he said.

TIGHITCO has hired about 20 people so far for the 120,000-square-foot facility, many of whom are now training at a similar facility in Connecticut. But Jonathan Zucker, president of the InterTech Group Inc., emphasized this is “just the beginning.”

The plan is to expand twice by 90,000 square feet and eventually employ 350. The $40 million project, between Ashley Phosphate and Ladson roads, is backed by a state and local government incentives package, including workforce training from ReadySC. The pace of expansion now depends on customer demand.

“If we win all the business we’re bidding on, we’ll need it very soon,” he said.

TIGHITCO makes parts for everything from trucks to planes, but the focus of the new factory will be supplying aircraft makers in the Southeast.

Its first major project will be building 6-by- 4-foot winglets for Savannah-based Gulfstream’s G650 business jet. The work, which is now being done in Connecticut, will involve making everything from the wing extension’s substructure to its skin.

After emphasizing the factory will make and assemble a variety of parts, InterTech chief operating officer Jay Tiedemann explained the general manufacturing flow.

Carbon-fiber fabric comes in rolled sheets and is kept in the freezer until ready for use. That’s when it’s cut into shape and then laid by hand, with the help of lasers, into the tooling or molds for the particular parts.

Those parts are then cured in the autoclave, a 9-by-30-foot tubular oven. Once hardened, a five-axis router trims and drills holes into the parts. The ultrasonic inspection machine makes sure there are no irregularities, and then the piece is painted in a nearby enclosure.

Tiedemann said any assembly work will happen in the middle of the factory’s main room, though none of that machinery has been installed yet. As with hiring and broader plant expansion, he said, that time line will be based on customer demand.

TIGHITCO also supplies Boeing, providing parts like landing gear-well insulation to the plane maker's North Charleston and Everett, Wash. 787 Dreamliner factories, according to Jonathan Zucker.

But it’s bidding for more, and the interest appeared mutual Monday. Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina’s vice president and general manager, a Boeing supply chain specialist from Washington attended the ribbon-cutting. The TIGHITCO factory sits in between Boeing South Carolina’s main complex by the airport and a smaller interiors factory just west along the booming industrial corridor.

Eclipse Aerospace CEO Mason Holland also stopped by. He said many of the composite parts on his new six-seat jet come from TIGHITCO, though he wasn’t sure from which plant.

“I hope they make it here because this is an impressive place,” Holland said.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.