Raising the Bar in Composites: Vista Firm Helps Design the Future of Defense & Aerospace Industries
Vista, CA –While the aerospace and defense industries are under significant pressure to manage costs, they have increased their use of composites to help improve performance and extend flight endurance.
One local company that is meeting that demand is Vista-based Carbon by Design. From composites in combat to unmanned systems and spacecrafts, Carbon by Design is a renowned leader for its manufacturing of unmanned systems (UAV’s) and advanced composite structures.
The company was first launched in 2003 primarily to serve the automotive aftermarket focused on carbon fiber composite products. By the time 2007 arrived, Carbon by Design had already initiated the pivot towards aerospace. As the aerospace offerings increased, the automotive business quickly became a legacy product line and eventually was discontinued in 2016. Carbon by Design was then acquired by Heico Corporation in June 2017.
Today, Carbon by Design is highly focused on three niches – unmanned aircraft structures, spacecraft composites, and thermal/reentry shielding.
“In the last five years, the product mix has evolved from typical composites to focusing on positioning ourselves as an advanced materials company,” said CEO Dominick Consalvi. “We’re always searching for solutions that are appropriate for our customer’s unique needs.”
Those customers include large defense companies, the federal government, and Internet technology companies. While we can’t tell you most of their names (top secret), Carbon by Design is the sole source supplier of the Lockheed Martin Surge-V Unmanned Aircraft System. In fact, the firm received the Lockheed Martin Outstanding Small Business Award in 2015. Meanwhile, more than 20 different unmanned systems are manufactured at Carbon by Design’s Vista facility.
The company is also an industry leader in the use of 3D printing. Consalvi said 3D printing capability has allowed Carbon by Design to meet the needs of its customers with faster product delivery at far less cost to the customer and have propelled its own profits with less manpower and less out-of-pocket production costs.
“We see the relevance of 3D printing, not necessarily as a commodity, but as a manufacturing aid. We have a large format 3D printer on site and the engineers have it booked 24/7 to run trials of tooling, fixtures, and shop aids,” he said. “The engineering team can decide on a design change at 3:00 p.m., print overnight, and test in the morning. This pace of innovation has significantly contributed to our growth.”
Speaking of innovation, it’s moving at nearly warp speed in the defense and aerospace composites industry, Consalvi said.
“The amount of process control hardware that can be purchased for less than $1,000 today is revolutionary. We can control processes, write custom software, and monitor the results in real-time with modest capital expenditures. The industry is always evolving at an incredible pace; materials science will leave you behind almost instantly if you are not paying attention.”
“We are typically innovating at the edge of the industry’s technology envelope,” Consalvi added. “Developing propriety processing equipment and automation systems has been a mainstay of our success – you simply cannot find it at our competitors. We are heavily focused on understanding how the next generation of automation and machine learning fits into a composites manufacturing environment. Often, our customers are surprised to find not only are we innovating when it comes to composite structures, but we are equally pushing boundaries when it comes to the equipment which processes those materials. In short, automation is the future. How it fits into the manufacturing composites ecosystem is the story that still hasn’t been fully written.”
Thinking outside the box is one reason Carbon by Design has been successful, Consalvi said. “I encourage our engineers and staff members to think differently. If we tried something five years ago and it was unsuccessful, there is no reason not to try it again. Sometimes the best starting point is where everyone else gave up; the solution may be right around the corner.”
Technology aside, it’s the people that help fuel Carbon by Design’s continued achievements, Consalvi said. “We sell engineering solutions to some of the largest defense primes in the country. We solve issues which our customers have written off as nearly impossible, along with providing advanced materials solutions that others had never considered.
“There is a significant amount of time spent listening to our customers. Many times the same widget they are asking us to produce may already be in production at a competitor, but they are unhappy with the results,” he added. “We need to determine how to leverage our unique abilities to exceed expectations while delivering on time and within budget.”
And stellar customer service? Carbon by Design pays attention to that too, especially in a super competitive industry.
“We are singularly focused on customer service, which is world-class in quality; we communicate daily with our customers on progress towards milestones,” Consalvi said. “We are continually investigating new mediums which allow us to convey data to customers securely and in real time. Every customer has the CEO’s cell phone number, and I typically don’t wait for them to call us.”
Carbon by Design – which employs 80-100 people, depending upon current contracts – moved to its current 55,000 square-foot Vista facility in January 2019 after being in Oceanside for 15 years.
“We wanted to remain in the same region. I was a former resident of Vista and had a positive experience there,” Consalvi said. “Once we had tentatively selected a site, we met with city officials. The meeting was extremely productive, and we all felt the officials we had interfaced with were the caliber of people necessary to make a move of this size successful.”“The City of Vista exceeded our expectations,” he added. “The Building Department, Economic Development Department, and even inspectors have been great to work with. We had several meetings with the building and fire departments during construction, and they provided insight above and beyond the typical plan check process and worked together to ensure that our move would happen on schedule. Since moving in, we have had significant interactions with city officials from the Mayor to the fire department.”
Vista Mayor Judy Ritter said Carbon by Design is a perfect example of the diversity of industries that the city has successfully attracted and sustained.
“There has been a 244% increase in defense and aerospace jobs in North County since 2011 and Vista is proud to contribute to that,” Ritter said. “We are proud to have a company like Carbon by Design, which is doing important work for our military and space industries while providing meaningful and high paying jobs for residents.”
Carbon by Design is also contributing to the local community by becoming more involved local high school STEM programs, the Innovate 78 Working Group, and even hosting events sponsored by the city in the company’s large multipurpose room. While remaining in California can be challenging at times – Conslavi said there’s no place the company would rather be.
“Even though the company has grown to a considerable size, the entrepreneurial spirit is still well alive within the organization. We are still thrifty, we pay close attention to our expenditures and only focus capital expenditures in market segments which are highly likely to return on our investment.”
Vista Economic Development Director Kevin Ham said Carbon by Design worked hand-in-hand with the city when relocating to Vista. “While the city was assisting Carbon by Design in locating here, Dominick and his team showcased the skills they use with their customers – they were always listening and looking for solutions that worked for all concerned,” he said.
“Dominick and his team are examples of the entrepreneurial spirit that is thriving in North San Diego County along the 78 corridor.”
Economic Development Contact for the City of Vista: Kevin Ham