Fiberglass fabrication is the process of making things from fiberglass. During the fiberglass fabrication process, thin glass fibers are combined using various types of resins to create a product that is lightweight yet durable.
This can be operated as an off-the-shelf product business as we have seen with swimming pools, security huts, and retail kiosks but can also be a custom service to manufacture to customer specifications.
The simpler small business to start is actually fiberglass repairs: damage, cracks, and holes in fiberglass products (cars, boats, canoes, trailers, caravans), etc. That is another direction to look into and with small DIY kits starting as low as R200 this is something that a one-person small business can offer. But we will not look at that today.
Fiberglass fabrication business
Fiberglass is a reinforced plastic material composed of glass fibers embedded in a resin, it is a strong and light material often used in various structures including buildings and boats. The resin and fiberglass mat are widely available in SA.
Here is a quick video to get you up to speed.
Now in fiberglass fabrication, there are two components to look at: the fiberglass process itself and the mould. You do not even need a mould if you are smart enough – a friend of mine made large fiberglass lawn reindeers by buying wire reindeers and then coating it with fiberglass and then lighting it up with various different colour lights. But for commercial processes moulds are often used.
What is made using fiberglass fabrication
When you think of fabrication opportunities, think of what can be done with that type of structure or shell (or with the materials and equipment). Don’t see a swimming pool, see a rectangular structure, smaller versions can be made for ponds, fish tanks, koi ponds not just for home use but also B2B for fish breeding.
Here are the most popular items
Swimming pool shells
Security huts (can be easily moved around site to site)
Portable toilets (here is a non-flush one selling for R10k)
Products vs custom made
Like any manufacturing process business, the decision has to be made whether to offer products or to offer a custom service. Now usually in this industry, a business specialises in a certain market from both a mould perspective (only needing a few) and an expertise perspective (better to specialise and work fast because you know the product). I usually look for opportunities in-between, there is no doubt some competition but I would look at modular wall systems: so whether you building a toilet, hut, or site office you can use an identical fabrication process. A toilet can be one panel on either side, a hut two panels, a site office four panels on either side etc. And so you have a much wider product mix: toilets, huts, offices, food kiosks and even large solid-sided structures:
Whereas with pools you are limited to that industry, and as we saw in the Western Cape outside factors like water shortages can severely impact your business. Also with SA’s economy in freefall, we are seeing diminishing purchasing power among the usual middle-income clientele, pools are now a luxury with only a few being able to afford it, coupled with expensive property prices many people can’t even fit a pool in their back yard. The coronavirus pandemic has made that pool of people even smaller with even business executives and drug dealers being affected, the only people who haven’t been affected and are still buying pools are politicians, so if you doing pools you should market outside parliament or the union buildings.
Starting out with products is always the easiest, that is because many custom jobs will bring unknown variables into play, whereas with off-the-shelf products the parameters stay the same. A guy I know built a custom koi pond using fiberglass lining in the backyard of his house in the mountains, because the pond was built in the natural shape of the environment (and not a template mould), there were problems with leaks, and leak detection specialists had to be called in with cameras and the water had to be dyed to trace the flow. The vast information available on pond leaks makes me think this is a common problem but it looks like a big headache to me. So if you are not very experienced avoid jobs with unknown variables, its good to learn but not good to fuck up the job of a paying client.
Smaller products can also be made using fiberglass:
Be sure to check out the health hazards of fiberglass and to use the appropriate protective equipment.
Main image credit: Karmod, secondhand-portable-buildings