Peter Janicki Soars as World Enters the Age of Composites
Imagine the USA, resounding winner of the 33rd America’s Cup sailboat race, sitting in the middle of Safeco Field. This trimaran would cover the infield. Its 223-foot wing sail would rise eight feet above Safeco’s roof, making it impossible to close. The sail has aerodynamic properties similar to an aircraft wing, but is more than twice as long as a Boeing 747 wing, and its composite carbon fiber–Kevlar frame is covered with a shrinkable aeronautical film. Lightweight but stiff, it enables the boat to sail up to three times faster than wind speed.
Photo: Peter Janicki (inset) and USA sailboat, courtesy of Boeing (787) and Gilles Martin-Raget / BMW ORACLE Racing
BMW Oracle Racing’s boat was built in Anacortes in collaboration with Janicki Industries, which provided the high-tech tooling, or molds, used to create the wing sail. Construction took five weeks and 20,000 person-hours.
It is just one example of the high-profile innovation that marks Janicki Industries as a global leader in design and manufacture of composite tooling.
Mechanical Engineering alumnus Peter Janicki (MS ’89) founded the company in 1993 because he realized he could use his engineering skills to vastly improve the slow, labor-intensive process for machining molds for yacht hulls. Boat builders worldwide use his custom-designed molds to build composite hulls for craft ranging from high-performance kayaks to luxury mega-yachts.
Janicki's work took to the air when Boeing decided to build its next-generation commercial airliner with composites. Janicki Industries, based in Sedro-Woolley, won the contract to design and make the molds for the fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner.
Photo: Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Boeing's production partners wrap carbon-fiber fabric around the drum-shaped molds and harden/cure it to create the sections. Now Janicki is one of the world's largest toolers for the aerospace industry, with customers such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Pratt and Whitney.
Even outer space isn't beyond the company's reach. In a recent collaboration with NASA and a consortium of industry partners, Janicki participated in the construction of a prototype all-composite space capsule that could carry astronauts to the International Space Station during the next-generation Orion program.
CEO Peter Janicki directs research and development and runs the family-owned company with his brother John, who is president and head of business operations. In addition to its core ventures in the marine and aviation sectors, Janicki creates molds for light-weight experimental vehicles and has moved strongly into the energy sector in supplying molds for fabricating the huge blades driving wind turbines.
Janicki Industries participated in the construction of this all-composite prototype, which passed stress tests early this year. This crew module would carry astronauts to the International Space Station during the Orion program.
Janicki Industries employs more than 350 people, including 70 engineers and is one of the world's largest toolers for the aerospace industry, with customers such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Pratt and Whitney.
"The design and manufacture of large wind blades will evolve tremendously over the next 15 years. We intend to be at the leading edge of that evolution," Janicki said. "Much of our work is highly confidential and protecting our customers' intellectual property requires an extremely disciplined design and production system, whether it's for a wind blade or an airplane fuselage. If a customer hires us to design new technology, they own it."
He credits the quality of their products and efficiency of operations to talented staff capable of solving complex technical challenges and to exceptionally high-precision manufacturing systems, with many components designed and built in-house. A sophisticated software system continually tracks all materials, labor, tasks, and costs, and can accurately project revenues and "what will happen in the shop at 2 p.m. three months from now on every project." The result is total quality control.
UW Mechanical Engineering alumnus John Weller (PhD ’96) has been with Janicki Industries for more than a decade. He is the company’s automation and controls technology director and stands next to a 5-axis milling machine.
The technician is using a hand-held device to run a 5-axis gantry mill to create a carbon-fiber composite mold for an aerospace company. This mill is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and was designed, programmed, and built by Janicki Industries.
"Whenever the human race enters a new age of materials — stone, bronze, iron, plastics — society advances. We are now in the age of composites, but still at an early stage."
Janicki Industries employs more than 350 people, including 70 engineers. For a relatively small company, Janicki's economic impact extends far beyond Skagit County. The company outsources about 25 percent of its work to other Puget Sound region businesses. With many global customers, its products are everywhere, and Peter Janicki is too, traveling regularly throughout North America and Europe to seek new opportunities for composite materials.
"In most cases, manufacturing with metal doesn't make sense anymore," Janicki said. "Whenever the human race enters a new age of materials — stone, bronze, iron, plastics — society advances. We are now in the age of composites, but still at an early stage. People all over the world are learning how to use these materials and the opportunities are huge. As composite technology advances, it will flow down to all kinds of products."
In 2009 Janicki Industries prepared 32 unique molds for the exterior body panels and windows of the Rally Fighter off-road racer, manufactured by Local Motors, a new American car company. Janicki completed the molds in a rush deadline of just 60 days.