Glenwood Springs-based Fiberforge hits ‘end of the runway’ | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood Springs-based Fiberforge hits ‘end of the runway’

Kelley Cox Post Independent file photo

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Fiberforge, a local manufacturer of high-tech lightweight thermoplastic parts that once employed more than 60 people and was touted in 2011 as one of the "Colorado Companies to Watch," has ceased operations.

"We have been trying to sell the company for over a year, and we weren't successful," said Jon Fox-Rubin, a Basalt resident and co-founder of the Glenwood Springs-based company who first worked to develop carbon fiber technology as part of energy think tank Rocky Mountain Institute's HyperCar project team in the late 1990s.

"We hit the end of the runway, and unfortunately this was the next step we had to do," said Fox-Rubin, describing the company's decision earlier this month to shut down and liquidate its assets as "similar to a bankruptcy."

Fiberforge, which conducted business as a Delaware corporation, filed with the courts in that state on June 11 for what's called an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors.

Assets of the company have since been transferred to a court-appointed third party assignee to be sold at auction. The liquidation was announced in a Monday press release sent out by that assignee, Chicago-based Development Specialists Inc. (DSI).

"We will wind down the operations and liquidate the assets, and use those funds to pay the creditors," explained DSI representative Steve Victor.

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Fiberforge had operated since early 2011 out of the 24,000-square-foot former Coors distributing plant on Devereux Road in Glenwood Springs. The facility housed high-tech, computerized equipment used to manufacture parts for everything from skateboard decks and backpack supports to automobile bodies and airline jet engine components.

Among the company's contractors was the U.S. Department of Defense, for which it designed and developed super lightweight floor coverings for the cargo area of the Sikorsky CH-53K helicopters used by the Marine Corps. Other notable Fiberforge clients have included Toyota, Mitsubishi Rayon, Boeing and iRobot.

What grew out of RMI's HyperCar project in the early 2000s, which was aimed at improving energy efficiency in automobiles, ended up being applied to building ultralight, thermoplastic composite parts for various uses.

"Although Fiberforge had a multitude of successful products and growing interest in both the automotive and aerospace industries, the company itself struggled to reach sustained profitability with its broad offerings of engineering services, parts manufacture, and automated equipment," Victor said in the press release.

Victor said he believes that Fiberforge's manufacturing equipment and intellectual property, including patents, trademarks and proprietary software, will be marketable in a competitive sale process.

"Our goal is to maximize the value for the benefit of the creditors," Victor said.

Fox-Rubin began as chief executive officer for the company, before becoming executive vice president in charge of strategic projects and business planning in early 2012 when David Cornelius was named president and CEO of the company.

A handful of company executives, including Fox-Rubin, co-founder David Cramer and Cornelius, are helping to oversee the transfer of assets. The remainder of the workforce has since been laid off, Fox-Rubin said.

"We have been scaling back for several months, and were only running about 20 hours a week through the spring," he said.

The company grew from about 25 employees when it moved to its new facility from a smaller plant south of Glenwood Springs to more than 40 employees in late 2011. Fiberforge had "approximately 70" employees at the height of operations in 2012, Fox-Rubin said.

The company's patented RELAY (Rapid, Efficient Layup) Station, which it used to make the thermoplastic parts, was even exported for use at a research institute in Germany.

"We did work very hard to develop this technology," Fox-Rubin said. "We are hopeful that another company can pick that up and take it to the next level, and be able to afford to invest in it."

In addition to being named among Colorado's Companies to Watch in 2011, Fiberforge caught the attention of the Discovery Channel in 2006 as part of a series on emerging technologies geared toward reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

In January of this year, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., visited the plant as part of a statewide tour focusing on high-tech businesses that have created jobs and economic development in the mountain regions.

"They have carved a unique niche in taking advantage of the homegrown labor force here and spurring rural business opportunities," Udall said during the Jan. 18 visit.

jstroud@postindependent.com