David Hartwell started Bellcomb Technologies, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., in 1989 without formal training in composite engineering. His manufacturing plant is capable of producing approximately 400 million square-feet of panels per year. Bellcomb recently opened a state of the art factory for panels made with veneer stone on honeycomb and announced its environmental commitment to be carbon neutral.
How does your company fit into the composites industry?
We manufacture a wide variety of composite panels as well as our own supply of core materials. Our main core materials are paper, aluminum, plastic, honeycomb, as well as urethane foam expanded and extruded EPS foam, plywood cores, fruited poly cores and we put on a skin of steel, aluminum, plastic, wood laminate or sheet fiberglass. Anything we can stick quite frankly, then we frame them, put connection points on them and do it in high volume.
What makes you different from other composite business owners?
I left home at 15. I didn’t go to my last two years of high school and never went to college. I didn’t have any background in composites but I think like an engineer. I’ve been accused of being an attorney, being an accountant, I’m none of those. For me, it’s natural to conceptualizing a product in my mind and understanding from a practical standpoint how it performs and what is necessary to make it function. I knew nothing and I had no training. Instead I’ve had to learn and it’s been a great ride.
What makes your company competitive?
We focus on design solutions; we don’t sell panels because nobody buys panels. People really buy panels that have close outs, connections or attaches to something else. The other part of that is the push to innovate in manufacturing. We don’t have much standard machinery in our factory; everything is customized to hold higher tolerances and higher volume for less cost.
Why are composite panels part of the “broader industry”?
We aren’t involved in wet layup process or environmental issues. The only thing we have to report to the EPA is aluminum dust in cutting, and mainly because we do so much of it. It falls under the guidelines of reporting but it means nothing. We don’t think of composites as wet-layup. We don’t have to worry about what limits are okay or our use of toxic adhesives, VOCs are not an issue. We’re involved in a completely different composite market.