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Sniper: aiming for jobs

South Boston News
The Ariel Atom is manufactured by TMI Auto Tech at its VIR facility. The company is moving to build a new vehicle, the Sniper, that unlike the exoskeletal Atom would feature an enclosed hull made of lightweight, high-strength carbon composite material.
SoVaNow.com / April 03, 2014
Halifax County and TMI Auto Tech, the maker of the Ariel Atom performance racing vehicle, are teaming up to create a new manufacturing niche for the area: the production of lightweight, high-strength woven carbon composites.

It’s just the material needed for a new racing vehicle that TMI Auto Tech has on the drawing board — the TMI Sniper.

The Sniper, unlike the Atom, is a closed-body racer, said Matt Leonard, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, which has put in an $838,786 R&D grant request to the Virginia Tobacco Commission to launch the project. The market for the Sniper is a familiar one for the company: club racers, promotional vehicle purchasers, school car programs. The company is aiming to build 100 of the vehicles for international distribution over the next five years.

Starting price point: $135,000.

TMI Auto Tech is projecting it will almost double its current workforce by hiring 19 new workers to build the Sniper at its facility at the Virginia Motorsports Technology Park, part of Virginia International Raceway. Yet the IDA has aspirations of the Sniper project becoming a springboard for even more jobs.

“If [research] finds that right formula to create carbon fiber-based materials in a cost effective way, it could be broadened [for use] in more products and more jobs here,” said Leonard. “We think this could be the start of us making these high performance materials.”

That’s what the R&D application to the Tobacco Commission aims to achieve: the creation of a composite manufacturing base in the region. Leonard said TMI Auto Tech wants a local source for carbon composites not only so it can build the Sniper, but also to make component parts to sell to other automotive companies. (TMI representatives were not available for comment for this article.)

Woven-fiber, carbon composites are slowly replacing heavier materials such as steel and aluminum in the automotive and aerospace industries, said Leonard. As automakers come under increasingly stringent fuel efficiency standards, the push to make lighter, stronger vehicles will only intensify. Research into composite materials for use in tomorrow’s automobiles is picking up: Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Leonard noted, is one such institution that is actively working to commercialize the product.

From the IDA’s standpoint, the primary objective of the Tobacco Commission funding is to help TMI Auto Tech begin production of the Sniper. The grant application says the project will leverage a $475,000 private investment and create jobs for CNC machinists, assembly technicians, mechanical engineers, precision welders and fabricators. Within three years, according to the IDA, the Sniper project should give rise to 19 jobs. Average pay is pegged at $30,400 annually.

The greater potential lies with producing the carbon fiber itself. As it becomes less of a niche product, and more of an industrial staple, Halifax County could benefit by establishing an early base of production for composite materials. Leonard said the IDA is planning for the composites to be manufactured at Riverstone’s C-Care center (the park has been relabeled the Southern Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Center).

One advantage of carbon fiber, said Leonard, is that it’s similar to another material that Halifax County has a long history of churning out — cotton.

“Weaving carbon fiber is very similar to weaving cotton fiber. It could be something that we would have a large scale workforce [trained] for if the time comes,” he said.

The IDA will turn to a number of partners as it attempts to build a local composite manufacturing sector: the modeling and simulation lab at Riverstone and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center; VIR and the National Tire Research Center and Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion Labs, located at the track’s Alton complex; Honda Performance Development and other auto supply companies; and the Tobacco Commission. The research and development grant application was submitted to the leaf panel in mid-March; Leonard said he expects it will take 4-6 months to vet the application and determine if the initiative should go forward.

Leonard said the idea grew out of discussions with TMI Auto Tech that have been ongoing for about a year, part of the IDA’s focus on working with companies already in the area to come up with ways to foster more jobs.

“I don’t think that grant application would have happened if we hadn’t reached out to them to ask ‘how can we help you with your business?’” he said.



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Unfortunately no one in Halifax County is educated properly to apply for any jobs the auto manufactured produces.

Comments

Please teell me the tobacco commission is njot falling for this $825,000 for race cars i have heard it all. Our tobacco money is suppose to help people out of work, from the federal buyout. This is so wrong. What are we doing here . please


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