Industry based Allfast and Monrovia based

AeroVironment thrive despite tough economy

By Emanuel Parker/Staff Writer

INDUSTRY - With all the bad news about real estate, the falling dollar, rising gasoline prices and recession fears, it's heartening to know that two local companies Allfast Fastening Systems and AeroVironment Inc. are doing just fine, thank you.

Allfast, based in Industry, makes rivets that hold planes together, be they commercial, military or general aviation aircraft.

Monrovia based AeroVironment develops and produces unmanned aircraft systems and energy technologies for industry and government agencies.

"Every aircraft in the world, anything that flies, needs rivets like those manufactured by Allfast," said Jim Randall, Allfast's president and CEO.

"Sales were up 49 percent last year and we expect them to increase 20 percent in 2008," he said. "We expect the upsurge in business to continue into 2009 and until 2010 or 2011."

Steve Gitlin, AeroVironment's director of marketing strategy, had an equally upbeat tone.Gitlin said the nation's ongoing emphasis on security and a renewed interest in energy efficiency mean business for his firm.

"In general, we believe there are significant opportunities ahead for the solutions we develop based on the increased economic and security value of energy efficiency and network-centric security," he said.

"You use energy well, you use less. Our solutions are embedded in the efficient use of electrical technology. We've also improved our products and made them safer."

Randall said robust sales at Boeing and Airbus translate into business for Allfast.

"Boeing is very busy," he said. "If they don't take another order this year, they have a five year production backlog. It's the same with Airbus and the smaller makers of commercial planes, Embrasser and Bombardier."

Even the general aviation field is seeing increased demand for aircraft, according to Randall.

"After 9/11, many people who could afford it would rather fly on a private jet and avoid the airport hassles," he said. "Lots of companies that don't have the $65 million to buy a private jet have part ownership of one.”

PHOTOS: SARAH REINGEWIRTZ  / STAFF

PUZZLE PIECES: James Randall, president of Allfast Fastening Systems, holds airplane rivets at his Industry business, which had a good financial year with heavy government spending on military aircraft and new Boeing jetliners.

SSARAH REINGEWIRTZ / STAFF STRONGHOLDS: Allfast President James Randall says sales were up 49 percent last year and he expects them to increase 20 percent this year. Below, one of AeroVironment's unmanned surveillance planes is tested by the military.

"We hope to expand the use of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles). There's an opportunity for civil applications, border patrol, search and rescue, asset-and-event security and law enforcement. Anything were you can use binoculars in the sky to work safer is a great opportunity," Gitlin said.

Randall at Allfast said rivets are highly engineered products.

"If there's a hair on a rivet, sensors will spot it and stop the production line. It has to be perfect," he said.

"Rivets are made to last forever, whereas carmakers (who use screws and welds) just need to keep two pieces together. Carmakers can't afford to use rivets. Rivets can withstand extremes in temperature, pressure, create water‑tight bonds and survive lightening strikes," Randall said.

Founded in 1966, Allfast employs 300 people and last year did $60 million in business.

AeroVironment also makes the PosiCharge fast-charging system, Gitlin said, which is used to recharge one and two ton forklift batteries quickly.

"You never have to switch old batteries for new ones," he said. "You can charge batteries during breaks and it allows you to be more productive."

At its Energy Technology Center, AeroVironment is working on installing wind turbines on buildings, he said.

"Each turbine delivers 400 watts of power," Gitlin said. "They come in a modular system with six wind turbines. Now we're just doing commercial buildings. Home installation would depend of wind conditions and the site. But it represents a new solution to renewable energy generation."

AeroVironment employs 500 workers and did $174 million in business in 2007.

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"If you wanted a Jetstream today and had the money you'd still have to wait three to four years to take delivery. Aerospace is very strong and in an upturn now. Commercial is extremely strong and so is general aviation. I expect them to stay that way the next five years. On the military side, I expect it to maintain its status quo," he said.

AeroVironment was founded in 1971 by the late Paul B. MacCready Jr., the famous designer of human powered aircraft. His creations include 1977's Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered airplane; the Gossamer Albatross (1979), the first human-powered aircraft to cross the English Channel; and the Solar Challenger, which flew 163 miles from Paris to England on solar power. AeroVironment's unmanned, camera-equipped aircraft systems, used for surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking, include the Raven, Dragon, Eye, Swift, Puma and Wasp systems. Gitlin said the Wasp has a 29inch wing span and weighs just a pound. It can remain aloft for 45 minutes and be carried fully assembled. "It's really an ideal surveillance platform," he said.

Raven, another unmanned aircraft system, has a 4.5-foot wing span and weighs 4.2 pounds. Including its controls and a receiver, it weighs 15 pounds and will fit into a backpack. The unit can easily be carried in a Jeep, Gitlin said. It can be assembled in five minutes, has a flying radius of 10 kilometers and can quickly put users over a target where they can see what's happening via real-time video. "The U.S. Marines, Army and Special Operations use these as well as the Danish, Italian and Spanish armies," Gitlin said. "It's very valuable in countering a threat environment. We've barely scratched the surface for military applications.