It’s a well grounded company but it keeps its eyes to the skies.
Composites Atlantic Limited (CAL) engages in the design, testing, certification, and production of composites for the aeronautic, defense and space industries.
Headquartered in Nova Scotia, Canada (specifically Lunenburg, an UNESCO Heritage site), the 25-year-old company has a particularly strong focus on commercial aircrafts, with products that include aircraft structural components and control surfaces, ECS and anti-icing ducting, water tanks, landing lights, and a myriad of fairings.
But the company’s activities ascend even higher, escaping Earth’s gravitational pull – where only satellites and space stations fill the vacuum: CAL manufactures space products that include high modulus composite tubes, helium tanks, satellite reflectors, antenna structures, and solar panel substrates.
Wherever it finds itself, CAL also provides a range of critical materials testing services: Such analysis determines the mechanical, chemical, and physical properties of materials.
CAL is associated with the best in its field. “We serve as a subsidiary of EADS Sogerma which is part of the highly reputable and successful EADS group (the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company),” says Claude Baril, CAL’s president and CEO, who takes pride in being involved with one of the world’s largest aerospace enterprises.
CAL has been present in both the national and international market since 1987. Its team of about 370 personnel serves its customer base with experience in project management, engineering, design, development, testing, procurement, quality assurance and manufacturing. Its main manufacturing plant in Lunenburg encompasses 150,000 square feet dedicated to operations and administration. “Lunenburg is where about 95 percent of our activities are located,” says Baril. The company uses the most advanced equipment and technologies to support its mission.
“We also have our Mirabel division, which is our center for space structures fabrication and also housing our Automated Fiber Placement capability,” adds Baril.
CAL was founded in 1987 through a partnership between a Swiss company (Cellpack) and a Canadian company (ABCO) which is still based in Lunenburg. The company was then known under Cellpack Aerospace. The company was first established to manufacture the ADATS launch tubes and its main objective was to develop around the defense sector in North America.
In 1993, the main shareholder (Cellpack) decided to withdraw and the company was then sold to the French group Aérospatiale who, through mergers with Matra and Daimler, later became EADS. It is also at that time that the Province of Nova Scotia became a CAL shareholder.
Today, CAL is owned by EADS Sogerma, a global leader in the aerostructures and seats (pilot, first class, and business class seats) with more than 80 years experience in the aircraft manufacturing trades. Indeed, EADS Sogerma – as well as CAL – possesses the “right stuff.”
“Sogerma has become a major player in Europe with subsidiaries in France and Morocco. The group has the ambition to become an essential aerospace company that reveals itself as a multi-specialist,” says Baril.
Right now, CAL’s biggest focus relates to commercial aircraft and the necessary composites that go into the structures, he adds.
“The company’s largest programs entail aircraft models such as the 787, the ATR72 and the Bombardier Q400. Commercial aircraft – that’s the biggest part of our business. Next is defense, and the rest involves space, with those panels and reflectors for satellites. But the common line is the composites we produce. In whatever market, the entwining thread is our processing of composite materials,” says Baril.
As Baril relates, CAL is well known for its technical expertise, while reinforcing its commitment to quality and adherence to customer specification. “All of this is required if we want to do business with big-name companies like Boeing and Bombardier – which are two of our largest clients. We also have to bring innovation to our customers and, in today’s environment, it requires collaboration with universities, research centers and other companies sharing the same goal,” he points out.
The business also involves how company leadership directs its operations. “We have made ourselves vertically integrated,” is how Baril describes CAL. “We can do everything in house – and that ranges from material testing, to finishing, and crucial final stage of testing and inspection of the final product.
Among the company’s considerable capabilities is its engineering expertise. More than 45 staff engineers and technicians engage in numerous engineering disciplines. Engineers, technicians and operators engage in developing and building high quality structures and subassemblies that correspond to customers’ requirements.
Core technologies include hand lay-up with autoclave/oven curing, filament winding, Liquid Composite Molding (LCM), compression molding, CNC machining, and Automated Fiber Placement (AFP). Design and analysis software includes CATIA V5, Nastran and Fibersim. The company demonstrates expertise in fibers, matrix, and core material.
Further, tooling design and fabrication is an integral part of its overall expertise. CAL designs and builds both composites and metallic tools for molding, machining, assembly, testing, and inspection.
Its lab equipment and capabilities includes universal testing machines up to 750 tons, lab presses, real-time data collection, DSC, TMA, microscope and a multitude of other equipment supporting the testing of materials and structures. With its wide customer base having specific requirements, CAL has developed a real expertise in material testing and its laboratory staff is highly competent and dedicated.
Of course, its greatest resource is its employees. “They are key to our success, whether they’re engaged in production or engineering,” says Baril, “and we invest in their education and training, just as we invest in our technology. As composites production is very labor intensive, we rely heavily on our operators. We are not fully automated, so we depend on them.”
As such, CAL demonstrates its appreciation by fostering a safe and healthy work environment.
One of the challenges that CAL sees is new composite manufacturers operating in the low-cost area, says Baril. “But that is not unique to us. You’ll find that in many manufacturing enterprises, no matter the industrial segment,” he adds.
Growth, in recent years, has fluctuated. “We’ve had years of 50-percent growth, and then we had a year like 2008, that witnessed stagnation is sales,” reports Baril. “But we are back in a good grove, looking at 10 to 15 percent growth each year.”
Baril indicates another challenge facing the company: “The overall aerospace sector is a still-growing industry. The forecast for the next 20 years is very positive. Every company – and that includes us – is projecting growth. More people are flying. Also, airlines need to replace their fleets. It’s not just about replacing aging aircraft; customers also want to have more efficient aircraft.”
At the same time, more people want to play in the field, and emerging economies are increasingly participating in the aerospace sector. “That’s another factor that we need to consider. Also, as composites remain labor intensive, we see a lot of competition from low-cost countries,” says Baril.
But Baril is optimistic. “If we maintain our capabilities, the future is bright,” he says. “The market is there. Composites are an increasing part of aircraft content. For instance, the Boeing 787 is more than 50 percent composite.”
He is also looking at diversification. “Composites materials are used in many other sectors. So we are looking at other fields, particularly energy and naval, where we could develop a niche market,” he reveals.