Despite being the vice president of sales at Knight & Carver Wind Group, Gary Kanaby wears multiple hats.
“A VP of sales in a small company is more than sales,” Kanaby said. “I’ve been the technical leader in our company as well … I’ve been, hopefully, instrumental in helping our company grow and, hopefully, will grow it further in the future.”
Founded in 1971, Knight & Carver Wind Group is known primarily for its business of repairing and manufacturing wind blades. According to Kanaby, a 16-year veteran of the business, the company multiplied its revenue six times from 2006 and 2008, and held steady throughout 2009.
Knight & Carver originally started as a business involved in yacht construction, and eventually embraced the similar market of yacht refitting.
The company became a leader in the nation as a custom boat builder.
So how did a yacht company become involved in the wind blade industry?
In 1996, a wind farm owner brought failing blades to Knight & Carver. The manufacturer had gone bankrupt and its blades experienced structural issues.
With no one else to go to, the owner approached Knight & Carver to look into the problems. Able to apply its fiberglass expertise, company engineers solved the issue and repaired the blades.
“I talked to our CEO, Sam Brown,” Kanaby said. “I said, ‘Sam, this is a business we ought to continue with; this is something for the future I think is good.’”
The company eventually spun the wind blade business into its own division, with Kanaby as the division manager.
The division won a contract with the Department of Energy for $2 million dollars and in 2007, the company split in two: Knight & Carver Wind Group and Knight & Carver Yacht Center, Kanaby said.
The company recently introduced a new blade design that produces 12 percent more energy than current blades, Kanaby said. The new design involves curving the blade, allowing the structure to slightly twist, thus reducing loads. Such a design allows turbines to host larger blades and create more energy. Including costs, the new design will increase revenue by 10 percent, Kanaby said.
“It’s starting to be accepted as a good idea,” he said. “Now we’ve just got to ink some deals.”
All large-scale blade production takes place in South Dakota, while the company conducts research and development in San Diego.
As a large metropolitan area, San Diego attracts skilled crafts people in the composite industry. Additionally, because of the aerospace industry presence, the company can recruit quality and experienced engineers.
The factory in South Dakota allows Knight & Carver to take advantage of a significant number of wind farms being installed in the Midwest region.
One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the logistical problem of transporting blades, which can reach lengths of 45 meters (148 feet) and widths of 5 meters (16 feet). They require complex arrangements for delivery. On roads, the blades must be transported at an angle, often requiring three trucks in a row to carry them. The blades cannot be stacked, compounding the difficulty.
Knight & Carver manufactures blades up to 27 meters (88 feet) in length. Overseas transportation is costly, Kanaby said. The blades displace a lot of cargo volume. Even if the company used foreign labor to manufacture the blades cheaply, the transportation costs would offset the savings on labor.
Many European wind blade companies also manufacture in the United States to meet demand in the region, Kanaby said. Also, by manufacturing in the United States, potential customers can visit the plant and view the blades.
California’s business environment, unlike South Dakota’s, is averse to manufacturing, Kanaby said.
Regulations on permitting, along with environmental and labor laws, create difficulties for establishing a new plant, he added.
“With all the problems I’m going to have here, it’s going to take years and cost me a fortune,” Kanaby said. “I’m never going to get the factory in.”
Kanaby called the wind farm industry in California “horrible.” California possessed more wind energy potential than any foreign country in the 1980s, but let development wane. It has since fallen behind Iowa and Texas, he said.
“I think that there’s something wrong in our state,” Kanaby said. “There are wind resources here, why aren’t we able to put in more wind farms?”
Kanaby started in the industry while working for another boat company. He joined Knight & Carver, eventually becoming a yard superintendent.
After working for eight years, he retired in 1988, and went sailing around the world. In the course of his journey, he and his wife adopted two Polynesian girls and raised them on the boat. Eventually, the family settled in Florida until he and his wife became interested in working again.
Kanaby, looking to return to California, called Knight & Carver and learned about the company’s involvement in the wind blade industry. Kanaby rejoined the company in 2002 and has been working for them ever since.
And to whom does Kanaby attribute the company’s success?
“To me,” Kanaby joked.
On a serious note, he said the company’s success is due to the dedicated and knowledgeable employees. Additionally, perhaps Knight & Carver has had a bit of luck.
“We were at the right time and in the right place … We got into the wind blade business early and pursued it,” he said.