The Spirit of Innovation, updated 4/6/2017

by Pete Clarno

Innovation is alive and well along Southern California’s Leading Edge. In addition to its well-known expertise in aerospace, the region has shown the world new ways to create sustainable energy, developed cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and has turned a centuries-old agri-business around with groundbreaking new approaches. Come meet some of AV’s innovators.

Antelope Valley Industrial

INNOVATIONS IN AEROSPACE

Last October, Northrop Grumman won a coveted contract to develop and deploy a new generation of aircraft known as the long-range strike bomber. While few details have been revealed about the plane destined to replace the aging B-52, given Northrop’s experience, one can assume it will be stealthy, highly capable and keep Antelope Valley engineers and craftsman busy for the next couple of decades building upwards of 100 of the leading edge aircraft.

At the other end of the spectrum, Monarch, Inc. of Ridgecrest is making big strides in creating small unmanned aircraft for agriculture, wind turbine and power line inspection, mapping and other applications. Using advanced 3D routers, printers and mills, the company fabricates durable and highly maneuverable drones. With extensive experience in navigating both FAA regulations and tough terrains, Monarch is setting new standards in the commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

The pioneers and mavericks found at the Mojave Air and Space Port continue to push the envelope, creating and testing radical ideas in flight. Home to Scaled Composites, The Spaceship Company and XCOR Aerospace, among others, these dreamers and doers are creating technology which will drive space and air travel to new heights and capabilities.

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INNOVATIONS IN ENERGY

Blessed with abundant sunshine and consistent breezes, the Antelope Valley is a world-leader in the realm of renewable energy.

The Sierra SunTower, built by eSolar in Lancaster, is the first commercial-scale demonstration project of thermal solar power generation, where the sun’s energy is concentrated by mirrors to create steam, which in turn drives a turbine to generate electricity. Today it supplies Southern California Edison with enough clean, renewable energy to power some 4,000 homes.

BHE Renewables, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, operates the Solar Star projects which straddle the border between Los Angeles and Kern counties at the west end of the Antelope Valley. Together, these two photovoltaic solar farms are generating 579 megawatts of solar power for Southern California, enough energy to run a good-sized city of 250,000 people.

AnyWind Power, a subsidiary of Korea’s Pishon Energy headquartered in Palmdale, is developing modular wind turbines that scale from individual household use to large industrial applications. Using its patented technology, AnyWind’s designs are highly efficient, quiet and practical for a wide range of applications.

Meanwhile, KB Home is showing that new energy-efficient ideas aren’t reserved just for power companies. The innovative builder has introduced a DoubleZero home which saves both energy and water. In addition to being built with technologies which reduce power consumption to net zero, the home also recycles water for use in landscaping, reducing water use by upwards of 70%.

 

INNOVATIONS IN MANUFACTURING

Manufacturers are the backbone of the local economy. A number of companies are employing remarkable ideas and techniques to make gear that stand out from the crowd.

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BYD Motors of China is the foremost manufacturer of all-electric transit buses. From two assembly plants in Lancaster, BYD is fabricating both emission-free vehicles and the longrange power cells which drive them all day long. Recently, the company won contracts to supply up to 800 buses to the state of Washington’s Department of Transportation.

Similarly, Japan’s Kinkisharyo is assembling light rail cars in Palmdale to meet the growing needs of LA Metro. The company is building 175 rail cars for the system’s Gold and Expo lines. Even more may be optioned to outfit the Crenshaw/LAX line.

Not all manufacturers in the Antelope Valley are as headline grabbing as BYD and Kinkisharyo. Some simply provide the parts and materials required to build the finished goods. Morton Manufacturing of Lancaster and Incotec of Mojave are two examples of such key suppliers.

Morton makes bolts – not your run of the mill construction fastener, but high strength, high precision bolts for use in aircraft turbines. With a customer list including Boeing, GE and others, Morton’s products are in great demand. A move to Lancaster doubled capacity.

Incotec formulates advanced coatings for aerospace applications. Customers include Boeing, Airbus and many other aircraft builders. Incotec creates coatings that prevent corrosion, add strength and help lubricate critical aircraft parts.

 

INNOVATIONS IN AGRICULTURE

One doesn’t usually think of agriculture as a high-tech industry, but in the case of Tehachapi’s SunSelect Produce it is definitely applicable. The company has developed innovative hydroponic techniques to grow high-value hothouse crops year- round. From water recycling to re-introduction of waste CO2 as fertilizer to natural air heating, cooling and re-circulation systems, SunSelect is committed to sustainable growing practices.

This innovative spirit is found throughout the region. You’ll find it in the creativity of school programs emphasizing science and technology, in the entrepreneurship thriving in our small businesses and in the can-do attitude of forward-thinking leaders in both the public and private sectors who are making us exemplars of innovative design, development and delivery.

All of which strengthen our claim to being Southern California’s Leading Edge.

Source: 2016 ECONOMIC ROUNDTABLE REPORT, Page 26 – 27

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