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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.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Portland is in the middle of another construction boom, with residential and office projects springing up downtown, in the Pearl and Old Town. OB Web Editor Jessica Ridgway documents the new wave.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR
Dress for Success Oregon promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Remember the naysayers? Those who called the South Waterfront aerial tram a boondoggle? Those who rejoiced at the massive sell off of luxury condos at the John Ross and Atwater Place?
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Scott Kveton, the CEO of Urban Airship is taking a leave of absence from the company. As the story continues to unfold, here’s our perspective on a few of the key players.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
BY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
Tom Cox interviews Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Why has six years become an acceptable investment in public undergraduate education that over-promises and underperforms?
Thursday, July 03, 2014
BY TED AUSTIN & MIKE BAELE | GUEST CONTRIBUTORS
The Office of Economic Analysis announced that Oregon is currently enjoying the strongest job growth since 2006. While this resurgence has been welcome, the lingering effects of the 2008 “Great Recession” continues to affect Oregon businesses, especially with regard to estate planning and business succession.
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