From concorde to formula 1 – J-TEC Composites on the challenges of making performance parts in carbon

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When former aviation engineer James Newman began experimenting with PRO-SET epoxy for creating custom carbon-fibre components, he didn’t realise it would lead to a whole new career path.

The PRO-SET epoxy range has been developed to create incredibly lightweight but strong component parts, especially by infusion. This is why you will find PRO-SET epoxy used in specialist areas where strength-to-weight ratios are critical and these include aviation and car racing.

A new company that has become incredibly busy in just a short time is J-TEC Composites, owned and run by James Newman who lives and works in Maidenhead, Berkshire UK. James uses PRO-SET products to infuse custom car panels and other advanced mouldings for a series of high profile projects.

“I have been doing a lot of work for a collector and race team for historic F1 single-seater race cars recently, using PRO-SET epoxy infusion to reduce weight in their components,” James explained. “I have been asked to not publish or distribute pictures of my work for them at this time. They are actively competing in a historic championship and are taking it extremely seriously. All very interesting work though.”

James is also doing custom work on an iconic model of Porsche, a project that will probably take almost a year to complete, but once again his lips are sealed. So how did he get into using PRO-SET epoxy for this type of project? Having a creative streak in the family genes seems to have helped.

“My mother was a draftswoman and my father was a chartered marine engineer,” James said. “Due to my father’s work we lived in Kuwait for 3 years, where I also went to school, but this was during the long-running war between Iran and Iraq. Things got a bit heated – literally – when there was a sabotage attack at the local refinery. The fires raged for two weeks afterwards. There were also numerous missile attacks on tankers belonging to my Father’s employer.”

Clearly it was time to leave and in October 1989 James found himself back in the UK.

“For a school project I used my mother’s drawing board to design a remote controlled speed boat, approximately 1 metre long. From the drawings I made a wooden buck (plug), a fibreglass mould and then an epoxy fibreglass hull. The finished boat was way too fast and rather lethal but good fun!”

Aviation composites

With a natural flare for making things that went fast, James obtained a BTEC National Diploma in aerospace engineering and went to work as a car mechanic at Mini Speed in Surrey. The job included performance tuning, race car set up and various restoration projects.

In 1999 he joined British Airways, where his career in composites officially began.

“My first work involved repairing and rebuilding the Rolls Royce engine fan cowlings on the Boeing 757,” he said. “Subsequent work was in creating Concorde panel moulds from original panels to enable repairs to be carried out on the rest of the fleet. In my latter years I was writing programs for autoclave repairs, completing Boeing 787 training courses and generally carrying out large complex repairs across the entire inventory of aircraft.”

Into motor sports

 From working for BA, there came a sudden move into the high-performance automotive sector.

“The current motor sport work kind of found me without me going looking for it,” James explained.

“I was approached by an old friend I had lost contact with over 10 years ago. He was looking for a composite engineer to assist in producing moulds, panels and components for an endurance GT race car build. This is when I decided to set up J-TEC Composites Ltd.”

Although the GT project later lost momentum, James was able to diversify into other specialist automotive work but with the additional workload came the struggle to hold down two demanding jobs. Eventually, he took advantage of a well-timed opportunity to leave BA with a severance package. However, the transition from aviation to fully automotive proved an interesting one.

“In aviation the composite components are of a less cosmetic finish but made to very high form, fit and functional tolerances,” James said. “The processing and curing of composite materials is achieved with expensive equipment that is mostly beyond the budgets of small businesses and private hobby users. For me, the biggest challenge since leaving the world of aviation composites has been learning and adjusting to using new products, processes and tolerances. These are all needed to achieve the results required and expected by the customer at an affordable and competitive price.”

This led James to explore the resin infusion process and he admits that for two years beforehand he had ‘dabbled’ with mixed results. “I tried a few different resin brands and techniques but then I met West System International’s David Johnson at the Advanced Engineering Show at the NEC in 2015. He suggested I tried the PRO-SET product range and I haven’t used anything else since. If there are no gaps or errors in your process then this product works very well.”

The PRO-SET epoxy course

 In late 2017, James was offered the chance to attend a PRO-SET epoxy course with West System International at Romsey in Hampshire.

“I buy my PRO-SET products via the UK distributors Marine & Industrial and was invited by the Sales Manager Ben Catchpole to attend the free course, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was very well organised and the content was also quite helpful. No matter how long you have been involved and working with composites there are always things you can learn from others. The balance between the classroom, the workshop and the lab was good and reminded me of some of the Boeing repair courses I’ve attended in the past. Everyone on the course ‘gelled’ well and it made the two days a memorable experience. The main instructor was David Johnson, who has always been a great help in showing me ways to use PRO-SET epoxy to achieve the results I require.”

Since learning more about the PRO-SET range, James had gone on to become very busy, especially with Formula 1 work where a (race-legal) tweak to a body panel or foil may give a team a split second advantage.

“The F1 work found me via a Facebook post I created when I left BA,” he said. “My old school friend Paul Brooks contacted me about some composite work he needed for the race team he works for and I now have a growing list of components from them requiring attention.”

For James, the flexibility of PRO-SET epoxy has been a huge advantage in making some incredibly light but strong mouldings for a wide variety of applications in performance cars of all types, but other modes of transport can also benefit from his lightweight products.

“I have always had an interest in cars, boats and planes,” he said. “But the main attraction is the engineering challenges they present me with.”

So who knows – maybe one day James will combine all three passions and create an amphibious flying car. With infusion, the possibilities are endless.

James can be contacted at J-TEC Composites on 07776 218 548 or james@j-teccomposites.co.uk

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