July 2, 2012

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Flying High on Wings of Fiber

Utah’s Aerospace Industry Soars Ahead

Dan Donahoe

July 2, 2012

Military aircraft are also transitioning to composite parts, beginning with the F-14 Tomcat and the AV-8B Harrier. Modern fighters are also utilizing composite technology, such as the F-22 Raptor, which has approximately a 60 percent composite structure. Unmanned aircraft, such as the Predator and Reaper, are almost entirely composed of composite structures. 

According to Jim Sutton, Director of Plans and Programs at the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, the presence of composites in the military is booming.

“Hill Air Force Base’s Ogden Air Logistics Center sits on the cutting edge of these activities as the Air Force’s fighter depot,” says Sutton. “Sustaining the A-10, F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighters puts the maintenance experts at Hill at the forefront of four successive generations of composite laden systems. In addition, Hill’s role as the MRO depot for the all composite Predator and Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft is driving innovation in this exploding material science technology.”

In addition to aerospace products, composites are used in sporting equipment such as surf boards, skis, canoes, boats, golf clubs and bicycles. Composites are also used in automobiles and in many industrial applications.

“As the Utah composite industry grew, several other successful composite companies have spun off of these lightweight and thermally stable products,” says ATK’s Hellekson. “In Utah, besides the aerospace industry, there are composite prosthetics, gun barrels, structures for the semi-conductor industry, and ground based military applications. With a composite engineering department at several of the State’s universities, Utah is a great place to work and live with this high technology industry.”

The Right Stuff
Utah’s solid manufacturing industry has helped numerous composites-focused companies reach new heights. For example, Radius Engineering, which builds a special composites manufacturing tool, is headquartered in Salt Lake. And Janicki Industries, located in Layton, Utah, manufactures the molds for the most critical parts of many military and commercial aircraft to make high quality composites.

The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) has also been integral to building and sustaining Utah’s robust composites manufacturing industry. The SAMPE organization is considered the professional glue that assists the State’s composites experts and companies. Larry Peel, a renowned composites researcher and professor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, says that SAMPE has helped Utah’s composites industry reach first-class status.

“The local SAMPE chapter in Utah is much stronger than any of the SAMPE chapters in Texas because of the long history of composites fabrication in Utah, the vigorous exchange of ideas between academia and industry, and the willingness of local SAMPE chapter members to share their time in supporting relevant seminars, conferences, workshops and so on,” he says.

Utah’s highly educated workforce is also central to the industry’s success. Due to the growth of the State’s composites industry, Utah has fully invested in composite training in its educational institutions. JoAnn Matern at Davis Advanced Technology Center (DATC) managed a federal grant to create composites programs within Utah for training composites technicians, and her efforts involved several educational institutions and industry leaders.

In 2011, the DATC composite program trained 399 students in its 10,000-square-foot training facility. Utah universities house many distinguished engineers and faculty members, including Brent Strong at Brigham Young University, an expert in composites manufacturing, and Daniel Adams at the University of Utah, an expert in composite mechanics.

According to Mike Therson, Director of Composite Systems at ITT Excelis, Utah’s highly trained workforce is essential to the company’s success. “We have been in Utah since 1967. We are very pleased with our employees sourced from DATC, Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University. We also pull entry-level engineers from local universities and experienced people from the area,” Therson says.  

Utah’s composites industry is continuing to pave the way for future innovation and growth. Whether aiding the aerospace industry or outdoor products, the Beehive State is the ideal site for companies in the composites business.

Top 10 Aerospace Companies in Utah
Barnes Aerospace
The Boeing Company
ITT Excelis
Janicki Industries
L3 Communications

GOED Clusters


Hexcel Corporation

The Boeing Company

Janicki Industries

Hill Air Force Base

ITT Excelis


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