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|Wednesday, May 22, 2013|
BY MATT WERBACH | OB CORRESPONDENT
The story of a windsurfing board builder turned drone plane component manufacturer sounds unique, but the Columbia Gorge is home to a handful of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) component manufacturers who have made the transition. Take Real Carbon, for example, a Hood River company that got its start in Southern California in 1988, then relocated to the gorge in 1991. “We were making windsurfing products, so it seemed sensible to move up here,” says Mike Graham, an avid windsurfer who hails from Scotland.
Booms and boards were Real Carbon's focus, and that led to a partnership with Chinook Sailing, a major player in the windsurfing industry making other complementary parts. “We decided to start doing what we were good at and partner with other people who do the things they are good at,” says Graham. It was a key decision that would prove profitable in the future.
Thanks to their Chinook partnership, by 2003, Real Carbon had about a 50% share in the windsurfing boom and board market. At that point, Graham realized continued growth was going to have to come from a different market. Neighboring gorge companies like CloudCap, now owned by the giant United Technologies Corporation, and Insitu, now owned by Boeing, were developing drones, and a fortuitous turn brought Real Carbon its first UAV opportunity.
“We were lucky enough that CloudCap moved into our building and asked us to make some lightweight carbon fiber stuff,” Graham says. “That was very successful for us and ultimately led to us leaving the windsurfing market.”
For CloudCap, Real Carbon designed a carbon fiber box that could house the autopilot functions of the unmanned crafts. UAVs need lightweight, durable enclosures to protect their computer parts and navigation systems, the brains of the craft, from lighting, outside radio waves and any other electronic interference.
Thanks to the wind sports industry, a few other gorge companies had the carbon fiber manufacturing and design expertise the budding UAV industry needed. As a result, big companies like Insitu now turn to a group of smaller companies like Real Carbon — with its seven employees — to manufacture particular components. There is little to no head-to-head competition because other area companies such as Innovative Composite Engineering (ICE) in White Salmon, Wash., specialize in different components.
ICE also began with windsurfing parts, but they now specialize in tubing and hollow shaped composites.
“Everybody knows the entire market is growing and everybody is just busy growing that market, so we all collaborate very well together,” Graham says.
Real Carbon has seen double digit growth for several consecutive years as the market for UAVs grows. Not all the work is defense-related. Agricultural, geographical and academic demand for UAVs is growing rapidly alongside the military's increasing — and controversial — utilization of drones as anti-terrorism tools.
The success of the UAV market to date validates Graham's early decision to focus company efforts on a particular industry sector, and to partner with other companies that have complementary specialties. To go from surfboards on the Columbia to armed drones over Yemen may seem like an odd transition. But diversification has paid off. And today, windurfing companies in the Gorge are using their collective composite expertise to sail into the new, and now flourishing, UAV market.
Matt Werbach is a freelance journalist based in Hood River.
Friday, March 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
Founded 12 years ago, Keen Inc. likes to push the envelope, starting with the debut of the “Newport” closed toe sandal in 2003. Since then, the company has opened a factory on Swan Island and a sleek new headquarters in the Pearl District. The brand’s newest offering, UNEEK, is a sandal made from two woven cords and not much more.
Monday, February 23, 2015
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB CONTRIBUTOR
Live, Work, Play: Catching up with Chris Johnson.
Friday, February 20, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT | OB CONTRIBUTOR
"Shipping containers to Portland is like waiting for a bus that travels once a day."
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
NBA commissioner: "I would love to end up having an All-Star Game in Portland. It's really just a function of ensuring that we can fit in town."
Thursday, March 19, 2015
BY DAN COOK | Photos by Jason E. Kaplan
An alliance of developers, academics and timber industry executives wants to position Oregon as a front runner in the glamorous new world of wooden skyscrapers.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
The big news at Oregon Business is we’re getting a ping pong table. After reading the descriptions of the 2015 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, a disproportionate number of which feature table tennis in the office, I decided it was time to bring our own workplace into the 21st century. It was a tough call, but it’s lonely at the top, and someone has to make the hard decisions.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
At Oregon State University, a 21st century version of the bad dream — nuclear terrorism — is alive and well. This winter, the Department of Nuclear Physics and Radiation Health Physics created a new interdisciplinary graduate emphasis in nuclear forensics, a Sherlock Holmes-sounding program that aims to identify how and where confiscated nuclear and radiological materials were created.
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