Dominick Consalvi is general partner in Carbon by Design, located in Oceanside, Calif. Coming out of a strong fabrication background with an appetite for solving complex manufacturing challenges, he helped found Carbon by Design on a small amount of seed money. He has helped grow the company from its automotive aftermarket origins to a focus on aerospace, especially on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
How do you see composites evolving within the UAV market?
We manufacture UAVs for all the major Department of Defense (DOD) prime contractors. Typically, programs start with a single component, and we are then quickly awarded contracts for a large portion of the aircraft or the entire aircraft in some instances. We are now supplying our customers with completed modules. I see this model as the way the composites UAV industry will eventually evolve; part by part, section by section.
Which current components pose the most challenges?
Sometime we encounter designs that are not optimized for composites. Several tools have over 40 breakout pieces, including undercuts and knockout blocks. Although these items are the most challenging, they are also the most rewarding when successfully completed.
How can testing components for strength and endurance during the manufacturing process bring positive results?
We do a lot of specimen testing with local laboratories. We spend a substantial amount of time improving the existing designs that our customers present to us. More often than not our customers are surprised to find that we took the initiative to improve the products on our own and often implement our suggested changes.
What are some challenges that composites present for the aerospace market?
In the aerospace market there is a relentless push to improve, refine and innovate the use and ability of composite structures. With a core competency that is nearly an impossible niche, a company has to constantly experiment with new materials, procedure and equipment to press the boundaries of what is currently possible.
What is the long-term outlook for using composites in aerospace?
In the next 30 to 50 years, composites will completely replace aluminum and metallic structures in the majority of the applications that we see them used in today. However, there is still a substantial amount of validation work that needs to be completed for this to become a reality.
How does a company decide if it should go the in-house built equipment route?
We have built our own curing equipment, some of which specifically suited to cure very large composite structures. We have developed our own light RTM injection equipment and the software which is responsible for driving the equipment. Diversity of the equipment on the floor offers a wide variety of options to customers. In some instances, we have built specific equipment to suit the needs of the structures that our customers have brought to us.