Eric Casterline is the president of Heatcon Composite Systems based in Seattle, Wash. Casterline has been working with Heatcon since 1994 and has been involved in various roles with the company including sales and development. He is currently working on projects to improve composite repair on large structures, such as the large panels on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and expects that composite repair will continue to influence the industry as more components are integrated.
How long has Heatcon been involved in composite repair solutions? Is that its main focus?
Heatcon Composite Systems opened its doors in 1978 as a distributor of heating devises, basically a specialty distributor of heating and temperature sensors. In the early 80s we built a control panel system for Boeing. This became the first hot bonder, a control system for calculating the time and temperature of the heat area. After 1981, the heat bonder section of the business evolved and grew beyond distribution. That’s when the company separated into the heat division and specifically composite repair. Now composite repair is the larger part of the company. Heatcon, Inc is the original company and there are three subsidiaries in the Heatcon Composite Systems branch; there is a subsidiary in the U.K., Heatcon Composite Systems in the U.S., and Heatcon Composite Training in the U.S.
What are challenges to repairing composite parts?
We like to think there are two distinct “challenging” areas. First, the aviation industry needs to learn more about composite repair in order to become more competitive with metals. The second challenge with repair materials, and the core of our business, is on equipment and how it can be adapted for easy use.
We spend a lot of time focusing on building a tool that technicians can use day-to-day and not something that is overly complex to operate. For example, the U.S. Army just ordered bonders that needed to be flexible to use in places without a power supply. We’re frequently asked to create custom equipment for companies and we do that by adapting our current technology to fit to various industry applications.
How have recent market trends impacted your products?
Obviously, the big trend is that aerospace companies like Boeing and Airbus are building larger structures. The media is talking about the composite Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In one respect, this is nothing new to our industry (composites have been used in aerospace for many years) but the scale is completely new. Now they are using composites extensively in primary structures. The military had previously done something similar in the F-22 Raptor, but this is a game changer for commercial planes that will now need a larger customer base of technicians to handle repairs.