Pacific Northwest companies were well represented at the recent ADS Expo East. The event was held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center and hosted more than 180 of industry’s leading companies and featured demonstrations and industry related seminars. Proud to be among this group were many companies located in the Pacific Northwest. I spent time with the following companies to learn about growth and innovation: Benchmade Knife Company, Beyond Clothing, Cascade Designs, Crimson Trace, Danner Boots, and Tactical Tailor. Each company had key members of their leadership on hand to talk about and demonstrate new products which really highlight their manufacturing and creative design efforts towards supporting the military and public safety community.
A few of the observations I have about the Northwest Companies follow.
Benchmade Knife Company continues to define their hook knife product line and push tool engineering to meet the Army’s specific operational needs. What began as a compact tool used by Jump Masters to cut away distressed jumpers has now evolved into a full line of multi use safety tools. Thanks in part to placement on the Army’s Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) product list, the hook knife is now an accepted part of soldiers gear providing additional benefits as part of every Combat Medics Bag.
The company “Beyond Clothing” might not be a name well-recognized outside of high performance clothing but as I learned at the show, they continue to innovate serving the Special Forces (SF) needs within the Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) program. Beyond meets these requirements in special situations where the mandatory sources cannot. Developed in 2004, the PCU program was designed to specifically to meet SF requirements for cold weather gear when deployed in Afghanistan. The Army followed with the current program called Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) which began fielding in Kuwait in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007. It’s obvious that the services continue to have a requirement for performance clothing for use in unusually harsh, wet and cold environments.
Cascade Designs demonstrated their line of smartly designed stoves and accessories, sleep pads, water purification and hydration systems. It never ceases to amaze to watch the self inflating sleep pad take shape providing a greater level of insulation for cold weather conditions. When you look at the Cascade designed products two things come immediately to mind (1) the high level of manufacturing quality and excellence; (2) the elegance and creativity of their design.
The latest line of grip based laser aiming devices made an impact for Crimson Trace. The laser sights shown to this audience focused on applications for the AR-15 rifle. Crimson Trace had two demonstration rifles on hand for attendees to show how the three options work. Their newest laser is the MVF-515 Vertical Foregrip Light & Laser Combo. From their website, “this serves as a multi-purpose tactical platform as we develop new modules and capabilities.” Rumor has it Crimson Trace will have a newer version to show at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City the first week in August – don’t miss it.
Standing out among the competition in footwear is a tough requirement but Danner makes it look easy. I spent some time with the Danner Combat Hiker Military Boot. This boot does so well is because it was designed for the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan. Unless you have spent time operating in all three current areas of terrain (Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan) it might be easy to think that one boot can do it all! However, that is not the case and Danner Boots gets that. This is especially true in Afghanistan where loose rock as opposed to sand is the norm. The boot has been so well received that it is now procured as part of the Army RFI product list.
Tactical Tailor is in a crowded and competitive market space. However, when it comes to Tactical Tailor’s business, their stated mission of ‘providing superior products of exceptional value” is not just a corporate platitude. After a few minutes of viewing their latest tactical nylon products it’s easy to see why Tactical Tailor products stand out from the competition. Mass produced nylon makers don’t understand Soldier requirements like Tactical Tailor. A company founded by a Soldier who focused initially on making rucksacks better and then building better bags and packs remains unique within the industry. Tactical Tailor is successful by staying close and really understanding their end-user – the Soldier.
In addition to providing a forum to demonstrate product lines, the ADS event offered a broad schedule over the two days which included industry demonstrations and break-out sessions. The discussions about supporting Explosive Ordinance Detachments (EOD) in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demonstration by the DuPont THERMO-MAN® showing how thermal protection is measured, and the demonstration on the latest technologies and products available for rapid response to aid in disaster relief efforts where particularly great examples.
Most of the companies specifically mentioned are members of the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition (PNDC). This coalition is a member funded organization focused on generating regional technology and business opportunities through local, regional, & national government procurement groups. Their primary focus is helping members to develop opportunities within the Department of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security. To learn more about the PNDC, visit their webpage at http://www.pndc.us/.
The next opportunity for Pacific Northwest companies to shine will be at the Outdoor Retailer show, Salt Lake City. As members of industry, military procurement officer, requirements developers, and material and product designers descend on Salt Lake, I will be looking for more examples which highlight the depth and creativity of Pacific Northwest companies.