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INTERVIEW - Dr. Jonathan Ransom, NASA Langley Research Center & Jonathan Holman, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance

News International-French

1 Jan 2020

JEC Composites Magazine interviewed Dr. Jonathan Ransom, NASA Langley Research Center and Jonathan Holman, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, to find out more about the NASA's composite latest developments and how it contribute to develop the Hampton Road's economy.

Dr. Jonathan Ransom, Head of the Durability, Damage Tolerance and Reliability Branch at the NASA Langley Research Center
Dr. Jonathan Ransom
Head of the Durability, Damage Tolerance and Reliability Branch at the NASA Langley Research Center

Ransom is the Head of the Durability, Damage Tolerance and Reliability Branch at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia where he has worked for over 30 years. In this position, which he has held since 2002, he manages over 60 employees including civil servants, contractors, and university faculty and students. The Branch focuses on understanding and quantifying the structural behavior and the durability and damage tolerance of aircraft and spacecraft vehicles. Dr. Ransom received the Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics from Virginia State University in 1983, the Master of Science Degree in Engineering Mechanics from Old Dominion University in 1989 and the Doctoral Degree in Aerospace Engineering also from Old Dominion University in 2001.

During his tenure at NASA, he has performed research in computational damage mechanics, finite element methods development and high performance computing methods. More specifically, he has developed multidisciplinary physics-based analytical and computational methods for analyzing and predicting the response of advanced materials and structures for aerospace applications.

He has received numerous NASA awards among them the prestigious NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal received in 1998 for his research, development and successful technology transfer of a novel computational method for analysis and design of structural systems. He was also honored in 2006 by the Minorities in Research Sciences with a Career Achievement Award for his sustained research in computational structural mechanics. In addition to recognition for his research accomplishments, Dr. Ransom is a 2011 recipient of the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for outstanding leadership of the Durability, Damage Tolerance and Reliability Branch, the Langley Research Directorate, and the Agency.

JEC Composites Magazine: The economic development of Hampton Roads is closely linked to the presence of NASA. What are the benefits of this presence in the field of composites?
Dr. Jonathan Ransom: The close linkage of the economic development of Hampton Roads and NASA has the following benefits:

  • Access to Langley’s capabilities including test facilities and Subject Matter Experts
  • Access to former Langley employees. Many retirees continue to work at Langley as Distinguished Research Associates (DRA) where they continue to perform research in emerging disciplinary areas not necessarily supported by current NASA programs. These retirees also frequently serve as consultants to local industry partners.
  • Langley has a close partnership with the National Institute of Aerospace, which is a non-profit research, graduate education, and outreach institute located in Hampton. NIA collaborates with NASA, other government agencies and laboratories, universities, and industry to conduct leading-edge research and technology development in space exploration, aeronautics, and science. Hence, it is a significant bridge between NASA and the Hampton Roads industrial community.
  • The close tie between Hampton Road and NASA provides application focused research to enhance NASA’s missions.

JEC Composites Magazine: Have there been any significant composite developments related to space conquest?
Dr. Jonathan Ransom: The following represents significant developments at Langley related to the space conquest:

  • Langley has capability to manufacture composite test articles ranging from unmanned aerial systems, rovers, habitats, wind tunnel models, and composite heatshield carrier structures along with instrumentation.
  • The Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC) system is state of the art composites research capability. The flexible and adaptable system has the ability to switch between different process heads making it an ideal research platform that scales to aerospace industry and NASA practice. In-situ process monitoring capability has been developed and integrated for real-time monitoring of creation o  voids and defects during the layup process and immediate reporting to the operator.
  • Langley researchers are taking a multidisciplinary approach to accelerate maturation of lightweight structural nanotube composites. Capabilities spanning computational modeling, synthesis, characterization, processing, testing. Design and systems analysis are being employed.
  • The Materials International Space Station Experiment-11-Commercial (MISSE-11-Commercial) hosts 13 commercial investigations/test samples from four customers consisting of radiation protection, radiation detection, laminates, coatings, polymeric, high-efficiency low-mass solar cell systems, a new solar cell test bed, composites and additively-manufactured materials, all exposed to the low-Earth orbit space environment.

JEC Composites Magazine: What are some major initiatives presently underway at NASA related to composites?
Dr. Jonathan Ransom: Some major initiatives underway or underway most recently are as follows:

The Advanced Composites Project in the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate that focused on addressing improved methods, tools, and protocols to reduce the development and certification timeline for composite materials and structures. The technical challenges included:

  • Developing analytical methods and rapid-design tools to reduce structural design cycle time and testing effort during development and certification;
  • Developing quantitative and practical inspection methods, data management methods, models, and tools that will increase inspection throughput; and
  • Developing process models to predict defects that occur in automated manufacturing, improve quality control for co-bond and co-cured interfaces, and develop cure process models to prevent defect formation during matrix cur

Another major initiative is focused on increasing the rate of manufacturing to meet the growing worldwide demand for personal and business travel.  To meet this growing demand, commercial aircraft manufacturers need to double production rates within the next 20 years while the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) manufacturers are developing vehicles for passenger and package delivery, requiring high efficiencies while still meeting strict regulatory structures and materials performance requirements similar to those of commercial aviation.  If the aviation industry is to meet production needs at per unit costs and factory floor space that are equivalent or less than today’s costs and floor space requirements, the advanced manufacturing technologies being developed will require corresponding advances in materials, including composites, processing and certification technologies. 
Moreover, for space flight, the cost of launching a kg to orbit is estimated currently at $10,000; barring a drastic reduction in launch costs, lightweight and high strength materials will remain the most sought after spaceflight materials for the foreseeable future.  Other primary considerations for materials in spaceflight applications include affordability, compatibility with other systems and materials, and manufacturability.  The emergence of new advanced manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing has revolutionized the aerospace industry in recent years. 

Composites are crosscutting technology for NASA Space missions including the Artemis program, NASA’s new lunar exploration program, which includes sending the first woman and the next man on the Moon. Meeting the requirements of the mission will undoubtedly include innovations in composites.

JEC Composites Magazine: Do companies work exclusively for space or are they open to other sectors?
Dr. Jonathan Ransom: Composites, and materials in general, are cross cutting capabilities. A former Branch Head of our Advanced Materials and Processing Branch often used the tagline “Because you have to build it out of something.” This emphasizes that materials are enabling to all aerospace vehicles.  While the some materials systems may vary for aeronautics and space applications, composites due to their high strength to weight ratio are enabling for lightweighting both air and space vehicles. Hence, companies are generally open to both space and aeronautics sectors.

Jonathan Holman Director, Business Intelligence, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance

Jonathan Holman
Director, Business Intelligence, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance

Jonathan Holman, Director of Business Intelligence, started as an intern with the Alliance in December of 2016. Jonathan has deep roots in Hampton Roads, which he has called home for nearly 30 years. He is a product of the region’s education system, attending secondary school on the Peninsula and college on the Southside. His passion for the Hampton Roads community certainly shines through as he plays a critical role in the Alliance’s mission to increase primary jobs, grow capital investment and improve prosperity in the very region he calls home. Jonathan assists with process management and execution of ROIs, monitors and reports on key economic trends impacting the region and confers on regional initiatives through relationships with community partners. Some of his responsibilities include: maintaining and updating an inventory of market research, generating business intelligence on targeted industry sectors and companies, assisting external stakeholders with research requests, creating collateral highlighting regional strengths, managing the quarterly C2ER Cost of Living Index data collection, monitoring and reporting on key economic trends impacting the Hampton Roads region, and collaborating with regional partners surrounding the region’s sites inventory. Jonathan earned a Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration on Economics from Regent University. In addition to his work, Jonathan regularly travels to Central America to work with the youth of both public and private institutions.


JEC Composites Magazine: What are the specificities of Hampton Roads in the field of composites today?
Jonathan Holman: Hampton Roads presence for composites is supported by the region’s manufacturer-friendly business climate, established manufacturing cluster, central location for distribution, research base presence, and access to a strong workforce pipeline.

1. Manufacturer-friendly Business Climate

  • Plastic and composite companies will find a most welcoming business climate in Hampton Roads because of our business-friendly regulatory environment, low taxes, and our region’s ongoing commitment to education and workforce training to fill the workforce pipeline with highly-educated and experienced workers.
  • Virginia is the top state for business according to a recent CNBC report (July 2019). Hampton Roads has one of the largest workforce concentrations of workforce in Virginia with access to a central distribution network.

2. Established Manufacturing Cluster

Hampton Roads is home to more than 1,000+ manufacturing establishments who employ 57,000+ workers. A large base of manufacturing workers with related skillsets to the Composite industry further widens the availability of an experienced workforce.

3. Central Location for Distribution

  • Hampton Roads is centrally located on the east coast of the United States, placing nearly half of the nation’s population within an 11-hour drive.
  • Port. Hampton Roads is home to the Port of Virginia, a significant economic force supporting jobs and commerce across Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic. The Port of Virginia is aggressively expanding terminal infrastructure, investing $700 Million in improvements through 2021 in Hampton Roads.
  • Roadways. Hampton Roads has more than $11 Billion in planned infrastructure investments as part of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six-Year Improvement Program, which will improve already industry-competitive ground distribution times.
  • Rail. Hampton Roads’ ports create a perfect entry location for these railways for distribution throughout the east coast and mid-west.  Efficient connections with other rail systems and motor carriers provide easy and affordable access to the rest of the U.S.

4. Strong Research Base
Hampton Roads is home to nine (9) Federal Research Facilities inclusive of NASA Langley research center and Thomas Jefferson Labs. The composite industry is also strongly supported by the region’s higher-education research resources, such as the Composite Modeling and Manufacturing Lab at Old Dominion University.

5. Access to a Strong Workforce Pipeline

  • Strong Student base

> Hampton Roads produces more than 1,500 production-related graduates each year.
> Each year, over 100,000 students are enrolled in Hampton Roads twelve (12) colleges & universities and twenty-one (21) trade & technical schools, producing nearly 27,000 graduates each year.  

  • Experienced Workforce

> Presence of Workers: There are more than 4,000 Composite Technicians employed in Hampton Roads, and the more than 57,000 manufacturing workers possess skillsets that are complimentary to the composite industry. A large base of manufacturing workers with related skillsets to the Composite industry further widens the pipeline of available, experienced workforce.
> Military: Hampton Roads is the one of the top recipients of military personnel transferring into the civilian workforce; the region receives nearly than 15,000 transitioning service members each year. Transitioning service members that carry with them a bundle of benefits to help in the process and may help reduce employer onboarding cost, such as job training assistance.

  • A Youthful Workforce

> Transitioning military also represents a pipeline of a young workforce; according the U.S. department of Veterans Affairs, in 2017, approximately 75% of service members who separated in 2017 were ages 17-34.
> In 2018, SmartAsset featured three (3) Hampton Roads cities as top places where millennials are moving to, confirming a similar report released the previous year by Time Magazine.

JEC Composites Magazine: Can you share examples of composites companies that have thrived in Hampton Roads?
Jonathan Holman: Eagle Aviation Technologies, LLC,
located in Newport News, Virginia announced this past September that it will invest more than $200 thousand to add new production equipment to its manufacturing facility and add 75 new jobs. Eagle Aviation Technologies, LLC engages in the concept development, design, analysis, manufacture, and testing of prototype systems and components for the aviation, space, and marine industries. The company was able to take advantage of the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP). VJIP provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs or experiencing technological change in order to support employee training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens. 

Advanced Technologies Incorporated has found success in its Newport News, Virginia location. ATI's location in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia provides ready access to major aerospace research facilities and military installations including NASA Langley Research Center, Old Dominion University, Langley Air Force Base, Norfolk Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Station, Little Creek Marine Corps Amphibious Base, Fort Eustis, Army Structures Lab (AATD), and Oceana Naval Air Station. ATI provides engineering and fabrication services, producing composite and metal aerospace structures and components; and composite rotor blades and tooling with a special expertise in developing advanced composite fan blades, rotor blades, and propellers. In 2015, ATI expanded its tooling manufacturing capabilities with the addition of a 17,000-sf facility and added a 3-axis robotic CNC machining center.

Earlier this summer Mitsubishi Chemical Composites America, a leader in metal composite material (MCM) manufacturing, announced plans to enlarge its ALPOLIC® production facility located in Hampton Roads, VA. This is the latest example of a series of investments made by companies involved in composites and advanced technologies to the region; another that comes to mind is Advanced Technologies, Inc.

NASA’s Langley Research Center, located adjacent to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Roads, VA, is one of ten NASA field centers that continues to forge new frontiers in aviation and space research. Through its contributions to aerospace, atmospheric sciences and technology commercialization, Langley is improving the ways the world lives. NASA Langley Research Center designers and engineers today are leading initiatives in aviation safety, quiet aircraft technology, small aircraft transportation and aerospace vehicles system technology.

Key Employers: Hampton Roads is home to key employers in the composite industry, such as NASA Langley, Huntington Ingalls Industries (20,000+), STIHL, Inc. (2000+), Canon Virginia, Inc. (1,200+), General Dynamics (800+), Howmet Castings & Service, Inc. (700+), Continental Automotive Group (500+), Liebherr Mining Equipment Co. (500+), Newport News Industrial Corp. (300+), Bauer Compressors, Inc. (200+), Measurement Specialties, Inc. (200+).

JEC Composites Magazine: Does Hampton Roads have a policy for companies in the composites sector to attract them to the region?
Jonathan Holman:
Each Hampton Roads community individually retains policies that assist in attracting composite companies to Hampton Roads. From a regional perspective, localities are generally in line with state policy for incentives and are provided based on project parameters.

Virginia’s most valuable business incentive is its pro-business climate. The Commonwealth strives to maintain traditions of sound fiscal management: a growing, diversified economy, moderate and stable taxes, and a conservative, results-oriented approach to business regulation. This advantageous climate—combined with assets such as a strategic location, a highly productive workforce, and excellent quality of life—makes Virginia the best place to do business.

In support of this pro-business environment, the Commonwealth offers a range of incentives and services to encourage business growth and reduce the costs of opening or expanding a business facility. Incentives include discretionary cash grants, infrastructure development grants, tax credits and exemptions, customized training, technical support programs, and financing assistance. The state’s guiding principles for offering discretionary incentives to projects are to target those projects that:

  • Align with local, regional, and/or state strategic sectors and strategies
  • Are impactful
  • Maximize community wealth
  • Diversify the job base regarding skill sets; solve a specific neeAnd advance the quality of life for Virginians

JEC Composites Magazine: What do you say to prospective composite companies interested to settle in Hampton Roads?
Jonathan Holman: HREDA acts a facilitator for companies seeking to evaluate Hampton Roads as a location for the expansion of their businesses.  We can find available real estate that meets for their needs, connect them to educational institutions and workforce development professionals to discuss access to labor and introduce them to businesses operating in the composites industry to hear first-hand about the local operating environment. We make introductions to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership as well as the jurisdictions represented by the Alliance to discuss state and local incentive programs.  We have a robust business intelligence team on staff to answer any questions you may have about operating your business in Hampton Roads.  These services are offered confidentially and free-of-charge.  Our goal is to act as a one-stop-shop to save time in the site selection process.