Breaking the Stereotype: Millennials in Manufacturing


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I recently visited Goodwinds Composites, a company that I have watched grow from a small distributor serving the hobby industry to a full-fledged manufacturer serving many industries. Leland Holeman started this business as his first career job right out of college. Amelia Cook, his sister, joined a short time after, and the two of them have worked together since to transform this company into a healthy business. In this interview, they share their story along with some of the lessons they have learned.

Barry Matties: First, can you start by telling us a little bit about your company and what you do?

Leland Holeman: I’m CEO and president of Goodwinds Composites. We have been in business for 12 years, and we specialize in small-diameter carbon fiber and fiberglass rods and tubes. We micropultrude, roll wrap, and cut to spec all sorts of different materials, but typically carbon fiber and fiberglass.

Matties: Your business came about as an acquisition of a small company supplying the hobby industry. The annual revenue was around $100,000. When you started, it was just you.

Leland Holeman: Right, it was me and 1,200 square feet. I did all of the operations from taking orders to packing and shipping orders, as well as the limited finances.

Matties: Now, you have 12 employees and 7,000 square feet servicing many industries. Also, when you first started, you were more of a distributor; you’ve converted this company into a USA manufacturing company.

Goodwinds-products.jpg

Leland Holeman: We’ve gone from purchasing and stocking many of the products that we sell to manufacturing them in-house. Roll wrapping has expanded quite drastically over the last few years. We micro-pultrude onsite and have made a specific science for cutting as well as dust control so that we can accurately and repeatedly cut carbon tubes to spec thousands upon thousands of times.

Amelia Cook: We manufacture carbon and fiberglass rods and tubes from raw materials. For example, roll wrapping is one of our manufacturing capabilities. It’s taking sheets of carbon fiber pre-impregnated with resin and cutting flags, rolling them around a mandrel, wrapping them with cellotape, and cooking them for even resin distribution. What’s great about those is that they’re infinitely customizable, from the original interior diameter of the mandrel to the exterior and outer diameter, how many wraps, how rigid, how much hoop strength, how thick it is, how heavy it is, and how long it is; it can be tapered, straight, or somewhat shaped. Even double tapers are something we’re doing now, so it can be used in all sorts of industries and totally specific to the industry.

What’s a nice add-on, and something we’ve been doing from the beginning, is a level of secondary process that we don’t find in a lot of other composites manufacturers. We have a large machine shop where we can cut to spec repeatedly, like Leland said, so that we can be absolutely accurate over thousands of cuts, whether it’s at one inch or 142 inches.

Goodwinds_Milling-Composites.jpgWe also do milling and drilling, and we grind. We can specifically grind the outer diameter of a composite rod or tube to be exactly the performance needed, such as an attach point for the leg of an unmanned aerial vehicle so that it fits perfectly into whatever other fitting there is for that leg, or to sand off the edges so that it makes a good bonding surface. We’ve become experts in machining composites, and it has been cool to expand on that and add machines and capabilities over the years.

Matties: You’re bringing a real value-added step into the supply line that otherwise they would have to take on themselves because this is nuanced work. You’re serving markets that our readers are in, and that’s the interest here. Your products are part of assemblies that go into all kinds of end products, guitars, industrial, spaceships, drones, and many other applications. Speaking of spaceships, one thing that caught my attention is that you’re also going to Mars.

Amelia Cook: It’s cool. NASA reached out to us to help engineer and manufacture the carbon tubes that are going to be on the Mars helicopter, which will fly to Mars in July 2020; hopefully, it will land without problem in January of 2021, and then it’s an unmanned aerial vehicle on Mars. We helped design and wholly manufacture the legs for the landing gear. They’re wrapped carbon tubes, and we all touched it before it left the building. I’m sure they cleaned our prints off, but we can say we built something that’s going to Mars, which is pretty neat.

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