Before airplanes, there were balloons – romantic elements of fiction; important instruments of aerial navigation, and the passion of Frenchman Maurice Mallett. In 1879 he struck up a friendship with one of the century’s great balloonists, Paul Jovis. Together, they set up a ballooning society named the Union Aéronautique de France and created a legacy that is today a part of the C&D Zodiac story.
Furthering the pair’s enthusiasm for balloon ascents, Mallett formed a partnership with two friends under the name Société Mallet, Mélandri et de Pitray. Installed in the Bois de Boulogne in spring 1897, their ballooning park was an immediate success. Renamed Ateliers de Constructions Aéronautiques Maurice Mallet in 1899, the Mallet workshops prospered, thanks to regular orders from the Aéro-Club de France, the French flying club.
The first collapsible Zodiac balloon – the Zodiac I – was built in 1909. According to an historical account on the company’s Web site: “The origin of its trade name, registered in 1909, and its logo – the signs of the Zodiac with an airship moving across them – remain an enigma, as does the choice of the English spelling ‘Zodiac.’ The company laid the foundations of its foreign sales organization (Balkan States, Japan, Canada, United States) consisting of sole agents. By 1909, Mallet had carved out a specialized market niche as manufacturer of compact autoballoons.
Sixty-four years later, the company had expanded its product base to include inflatable lifeboats, which became a flagship business, and launched Zodiac of North America and Zodiac Española SA. In 1978, Zodiac’s growing interest in the aeronautical market led to the acquisition of Aérazur and EFA. These formed the nucleus of what later became the aeronautical segment of the Zodiac Group.
Zodiac furthered its global expansion through its subsidiaries. The 1987 acquisition of Air Cruisers marked a new step in overseas growth: the first major international diversification. Since then, the Zodiac Group has acquired many other European and international companies such as Pioneer in 1988, Weber Aircraft in 1992, MAG Aerospace in 1998, Intertechnique in 1999, Esco in 2002, Icore in 2003, Avox and Polaris in 2004 and C&D Zodiac in 2005. Today, the Zodiac Group numbers 60 companies all over the world.
STRENGTH IN INTEGRATION
The acquisition of C&D Zodiac has given Zodiac Aerospace further strength in the aerospace industry. Together with C&D Zodiac, Weber, and Sicma, Zodiac Aerospace is the largest manufacturer of cabin interiors in the world.
C&D Zodiac maintains a corporate office in Huntington Beach, Calif., and maintains 15 facilities worldwide in six countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Germany, France and Canada. Its in-house capabilities extend from raw material fabrication to final assembly. Operating on a philosophy to provide world-class aerospace products, with the spirit and service of a local business, C&D, with revenues closing in on $633 million, has made itself an indispensable resource to customers by positioning its plants in close proximity to its customers’ facilities. With on-site support facilities for every major customer, ready spares availability and a proven record of outstanding reliability, C&D products are touted as trouble-free.
Its full line of products includes cargo liners, galleys, lavatories, ceilings, sidewalls, floor panels, PSUs, crew rests, lighting, and seats. On the structural side C&D supplies composite structures, wing-to-body fairings, external doors, composite longerons, stringers, fuselages and frames.
C&D’s composites are part of a growing trend in the marketplace for lighter weight, yet stronger materials. According to the American Composites Manufacturers Web site, metals are equally strong in all directions, but composites can be engineered and designed to be strong in a specific direction. A composite can be made to resist bending in one direction, for example. When a part is built with metal, and greater strength is needed in one direction, the material usually must be made thicker, which adds weight. Composites can be strong without being heavy and have the highest strength-to-weight ratios in structures today.
Concentrating on the structural parts of the airplane as well as integrated interior systems and components, C&D’s Advanced Composite Division (ACD), located in Marysville, Wash., builds state of the art structural composites for both commercial and military aircraft.
Engaging in such important aerospace projects would not be possible without a range of tools and technologies. Approximately 9,100 square feet in the company’s Advanced Composites Division comprise an environmentally controlled clean room space. Other capabilities include CNC mills and routers, nine presses, three paint booths and four Tedlar/PVF film thermal form ovens, thermoforming, machining, panel pressing, composite fabrication and lay-up, autoclave cure, finish, and final assembly. The company maintains six autoclaves with two more scheduled for installation over the next two years – the most in the Pacific Northwest. All tooling is designed and fabricated in house, with highly skilled designers and tool makers on staff.
ACD also maintains an industrial design department in its 235,000-square-foot facility capable of full scale mock-ups. Prototypes are conceived with the help of the customer and are modeled using the latest in CATIA 3-D technology, then built in a state-of-the-art shop. CATIA concepts transition easily to ACD’s engineering with the use of SmarTeam PDM. These engineering concepts are then transformed to tangible products through ACD’s in-house advanced materials labs and FAA certification facilities. Making its operation attractive to customers through its speed to market, ACD brings further value through a number of certifications that include AS9100 Revision B; NADCAP for non-destructive testing and structural composites and ISO: 9001:2000.
The company’s place in the industry is due to its capabilities and initiatives in research and development, where it is dedicated to continuously exploring new materials and composite technologies to provide low cost composite solutions to its customers. “Our R&D cell concentrates on emerging technologies and advanced materials and experiments with different materials and rapid prototyping,” says Derick Baisa, director of marketing.
ACD also continues to work with the OEMs to develop and utilize emergent technologies in the design and fabrication of fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon fiber reinforced plastic.
ACD’s products are in line with a perennial demand in the industry for light-weight, high-strength materials. Because of their lightweight nature, as compared to most woods and metals, composites are important for use in automobiles and aircraft, where less weight means better fuel efficiency.
And because of this, there’s no telling what historic heights the company can soar to in the future.