FARMINGTON — Carefully patting fiberglass down into a gel-sprayed mold for a model-sized catamaran, Cody Spiller of Strong and Cody Espeaignnette of Phillips worked swiftly Wednesday to make sure the material made contact with the mold.
It was one of several processes demonstrated by a Composites One technician to a class at Foster Technology Center in the newly renovated lab on the campus shared by the center and Mt. Blue High School.
It's part of the job for technician Hank Yeagley from Pennsylvania who helps companies set up composite equipment and teaches them to use it, he said.
Composites One is one of the largest suppliers in the United States with 35 distribution centers across the country, including one in Rockland, John MacDonald, composite teacher at Foster Tech, said. The New England senior sales technician, Mario Ouellet, set up the day of demonstration for the local class.
The students have already learned much about working with composites as Carl Sennick of Wilton points out a remote control boat he's working on in the class. Other projects such as skis and snowboards line the walls.
Lucas Goodwin, also from Wilton, is ready to sand his long skateboard, a 4-footer that's used for getting to places, he said.
Composite work in Maine has traditionally involved the marine/boat industry but now includes wind power, transportation and products for military defense.
“You can really make anything you want,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin, a senior who's taking the class for a second year, intends to pursue it with studies at the University of Maine at Orono or in Rhode Island.
For some students the Foster Tech class provides a great connection for more studies. It's a pathway into a career, Glen Kapiloff, Foster Tech director, said.
“There are a lot of different options,” MacDonald said for the students who go on for more schooling in composites or who pursue plastic engineering.
Other students can move right in to employment, earning up to $17 an hour, MacDonald said.
Some second-year students of the composite program have worked at Kenway Corp. in Augusta, earning a wage, while gaining credit for class work here, he said.
Students at Foster Tech can test for national certification at the school. If they pass they can get a job, he added. Companies want trained employees. It's a lot less risky to preselect someone with working knowledge, he said. A 100-foot yacht can take three weeks to make ready and just a few hours to create. A mistake can cost a company thousands.
The high school's renovation plan to integrate traditional classes with tech center classes is apparent in this class.
Chemistry and physics play into the work as liquid resin and fiberglass are combined, then hardens to produce a strong, yet lightweight product that withstands corrosion. Composites involve a combination of individual materials making fiber-reinforced plastics instead of using wood or metal.
Students in the composite program are working with Mt. Blue physics teacher, Jake Bogar, on a Maine Windblade Challenge. Students will create 3-foot wind turbine blades for competition in Orono in April, MacDonald said. The winning team takes $50,000 in scholarships and work-study funds but the project involves combining the studies of physics, chemistry and composites.
MacDonald said he became involved in the 1970s, designing and building a kayak with composites. He brought his knowledge to the classroom. An electric car built from composites in 1996 in the class competed nationally and won, and sits in the new classroom.
"This was the first composite program in the state, New England and maybe nationally," MacDonald said.
MacDonald promotes the program for other tech centers around the state, Kapiloff said. One just started in the Bath school system.
The program draws students from Mt. Abram, Rangeley, Mt. Blue and Spruce Mountain, more than the program can take.