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Updated: November 28, 2023

Maine manufacturer of high-temp materials will expand, driven by defense, space industries

person wearing welding mask with welder COURTESY / FMI FMI specializes in high-temperature materials and composites primarily for the defense and space industries.

Biddeford manufacturer Fiber Materials Inc., which makes heat-resistant substances and components for the defense and space industries, is expanding with the lease of a 52,000-square-foot industrial building at 20 Morin St.

The company said it expects to add at least 40 new jobs as a result of the addition. They will include highly technical science and development personnel, engineering technicians and production operators.

The lease was brokered by TC Haffenreffer, Sylas Hatch and Justin Lamontagne of the Dunham Group and Danny Holly and Rhett Turner from Cushman Wakefield.

The space was formerly a food processing facility operated by Growers Express LLC, a Salinas, Calif.-based produce supplier.

FMI was acquired in 2020 by Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR) and has its headquarters at 5 Morin St., just down the road from 20 Morin St.

FMI's main operations focus is on reinforced composites that enable high-temperature applications such as thermal protection systems, re-entry vehicle nose tips, rocket throats and nozzles. Its products are used in U.S. ballistic missiles like the Trident D5 and in NASA programs such as Stardust, Mars Curiosity, Orion and Mars 2020.

big low building and vehicles
Courtesy / The Dunham Group
Fiber Materials Inc. is expanding into a 52,000-square-foot industrial building at 20 Morin St. in Biddeford, down the street from its headquarters.

Earlier this year, FMI played a key role in the successful return of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space capsule which brought rocks and dust back from a sampling mission to the asteroid Bennu. 

FMI helped fabricate the heatshield, engineered to protect the capsule and its contents from heat of 4,000 degrees when the returning spacecraft hit the Earth's atmosphere at 27,000 mph. 

Big plans for space

The 20 Morin St. lease will allow FMI to begin the process of setting up a center of excellence for design and development of advanced materials for extreme environments, Matt Bernier, the company’s general manager, told Mainebiz.

“We’ve been seeing incredible growth in the industries we support,” he said. “These materials are critical to the development of future systems for the Department of Defense, NASA and commercial space.”

The lease will also allow FMI to ramp up capacity for the materials it currently produces.

Renovations have started with some deferred maintenance. That work and equipment fit-up are expected to continue into 2025. But the company will start occupying the building as stages are completed.

The facility will support “low rate initial production” activities. The term refers to the design and prototyping involved in early-stage product development, said Mark Forkapa, FMI’s director of business development and marketing.

“This site will help us build prototypes, finalize the materials, and then move into low-rate initial production,” Forkapa said. “The beauty of the plant is that the type of manufacturing equipment and processes we’ll use are ones that we can easily scale right to production. So it facilitates a rapid ramp from concept to prototype to low-rate production, then into scaled production.”

The Defense Department, NASA and the commercial space industry are driving the company’s growth.

“Over the last five years we’ve more than doubled our capacity and just about doubled our workforce,” said Forkapa. “We see that continuing. We’re in several really strong market segments. And there’s a really strong pull for the type of high-temperature materials we produce. That’s continuing to evolve.”

The company declined to cite investment into 20 Morin St. Financing for renovations and fit-up will be through a mix of internally funded capital expenditure and contract revenue.

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