Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Smaller, better, lighter satellite antennas are all in a day's work for Todd McNeill's overachieving manufacturer.
When Todd McNeill was ready to start a new business, he cleared out some space in his garage. Now, over ten years and multiple moves later, McNeill looks back and declares the process as “a great, wild ride. It’s been a lot of fun.”
McNeill is the founder and owner of Eclipse Composites. “We manufacture segmented satellite communication antennas which can be used by the military as well as first-responders. Our product is light-weight and portable. The satellite dish is segmented and can be assembled and stowed in small packages, which is useful for users who are traveling into remote or hostile areas,” McNeill says.
An entrepreneur, McNeill says he was approached by the military to come up with a light-weight, ultra-portable satellite system where the antenna was the main component. “Their old communication systems were way too big, way too heavy, and they were not conducive to working in a hostile environment. They asked me if I could make something work.”
It took McNeill several years to come up with a robust prototype. “We started in 2006, and it was actually at the end of 2009 that we had gone far enough to receive a research and development contract. It was four really grueling years full of late nights and working weekends. It was like having two full-time jobs.”
The first Carbon Fiber Antenna developed by McNeill supported a Manpack terminal that was around 120 pounds. Now, just a few years later, he is working on composite antennas supporting total system weights of less than 20 pounds. McNeill understands his survival as a company relies on his ability to adapt and keep innovating.
“We’ll never survive if we just go with the status quo. We must add value. Our customers are huge defense companies, and they are coming to a little shop in Bluffdale. They need to know we have our act together, and we know what we are doing. We add value through diversity and agility because 90 percent of everything we do is custom work. But they keep coming back because we push the envelope by being more accurate, lighter weight antennas, and with higher data transfer rates. We are giving them the very best in the industry.”
Today, all manufacturing is done in-house in Bluffdale, Utah. “We have design and analysis capabilities here in-shop. We also design and fabricate our own tooling. We mold the composite dishes and perform the dimensional inspection. It’s all done right here.”
“Our product goes directly to the men and women in our country risking their lives, trying to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others. Our product must be of the very highest quality. They must be high precision, able to withstand intolerable conditions because they need to perform well. Lives depend on our product working in crazy environments.”
Challenges: Growth. McNeill’s company started with just two employees. Now he has over 20. “With more employees comes more internal work: an HR system, an accounting system, health care benefits and everything that goes with it. It is a battle to enjoy where you are at and not miss the days when it was just you and your new product, out in the shop. There are definitely days I miss getting my hands dirty.”
Opportunities: A standard product line. McNeill sees a need for better, commercial satellites and antennas. “We are trying to come up with a package for smaller companies out there, companies in the area of news broadcasting or running medical missions. They need a communication system, but right now we don’t have anything “off-the-shelf” for them. High end, military grade products will always be our bread and butter, as well as our legacy. But we hope to create something lower cost for the more commercial market.”
Needs: Talent. “There is low unemployment in Utah, and we are very specialized. We need innovative people to stay competitive in a high-tech industry. We have to recruit them, train them, help them be familiar with our products. It’s always a struggle.”