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August 24, 2021 26 mins

When it comes to developing and rolling out the latest technologies, there are thousands if not millions of moving pieces that have to fall into place for them to seamlessly work together. From innovative ideas and scientific breakthroughs to sourcing the materials and components needed for the final product, no part of the process can be achieved without the art of material sciences and the highly-technical world of composites.

In this episode of The Restless Ones, we sit with Riley Reese, CTO at Arris Composites, who is leading the charge in developing the highest performance products for the most innovative brands, bringing their vision of the future to life. We’ll hear how he’s utilizing the power of composites to create multi-function materials that enable everything from structural health monitoring to the latest design in aerospace technology.

 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
I think the future of composites it comes really back
to design. It's designing the right part to take advantage
of the composite performance and be more involved in design
and not trying to kind of take and replace, you know,
dumb parts, so to speak, with composites. And the other
big element that plays into design is integration, and I
think we're going to see more and more of where

(00:23):
you have a structure or a shell that contains basically
all of the wires needed to transmit signals, that contains
elements of structural monitoring so you can understand how that
part performs over time. Welcome to the restless Ones. I'm
Jonathan Strickland. I've spent more than a decade really learning
about technology, what makes it tick, and then describing and

(00:46):
explaining that to my audience. But it's the conversations with
the world's most unconventional thinkers, the leaders at the intersection
of technology and business that fascinate me the most. In
partnership with T Mobile for Business, I explore the unique
set of challenges that see I o S and c
t o S face from advancements in cloud and edge computing,

(01:08):
software as a service, Internet of Things, and of course
five G we are often left wondering how the leading
minds and business continue to thrive. Let's find out. Our
guest today is Riley Reese, chief Technology Officer for Airis Composites.
Riley's experience in fields like three D printing and materials

(01:31):
science set him apart from other leaders I've spoken with
on this series. He looks at challenges through the lens
of an engineer and see some pretty incredible solutions that
all depend upon the elegant geometry of fibers within composite materials.
I started off our conversation learning about the business of
Aris Composites and on Riley's incredible background. Riley, thank you

(01:56):
so much for joining us for the Restless Ones. It's
a pleasure to have you on the show. Excited to
be here, and I'm really excited too, because I usually
asked C T O s how they first got interested
in tech, but you present to me a unique opportunity
where I would like to know how you got interested
in materials science. Yeah, it is a great question and

(02:19):
a unique kind of field in the world of engineering,
and so it was the subject matter was kind of
this amazing professor that I saw through him the ability
to really think like an engineer, and so I was
interested in studying working under him and ended up partnering
with him on research and and and kind of going
deep in material science. As I got deep into try
to learn as much as I could from him. Oh
I I completely agree. I'm the son of two teachers

(02:42):
and had a big experience with teachers who were really
passionate about their areas of expertise. And we're great communicators
who really encouraged that kind of love. So talk to
me a little bit about some of the challenges and
material science that you find really interesting. Yeah, sure, you
know the they're kind of unconventional thing too. In material science,
a lot of people are trying to come up with

(03:03):
a new material, uh, And a lot of material science
is focused on the chemical or the physical side of development.
You're working at sometimes the atomic level, sometimes the molecular
level coming up with you know, with with new formulations,
trying to push into a new material space or new
new material combinations. For for me, it actually wasn't as
much that kind of fundamental side, but it was taking

(03:25):
materials that already exists and using them in new ways.
You can get it radically different performance or functionality. And
that's really kind of where you know, I fell in
love actually with matural science, but also three D printing.
So it's during my research there we're building heart tissue scaffolds.
The challenge was you throw a ton of heart cells
on a peatree dish and they all go off like popcorn,

(03:48):
but you wanted them to all beat to the same
rhythm so that they can actually function in the tissue.
So to get these cardio mayd sites to talk to
each other, you need to get something that looks like
the extracellular matrix of of a cell, which is kind
of this grid network. We use the same material you
find in the petri dish or you actually find in lotion.
It's called polyethylene. Glycol is what makes it lubricious or thick.

(04:10):
Many of these substances so materials everywhere, super common, been
around forever. But by three D printing this with the
process called electro spinning, we were able to create such
fine thin strands down to the nanometer level and deposit
them in kind of a mesh network that it got
close enough to making the extra cellular matrix. That is
pretty miraculous. We throw the cells on there, and all

(04:31):
of a sudden they're contracting together and we have a
functioning tissue that we could implant to rebuild, you know,
scar tissue off after a heart attack. Riley, this is
a very risky subject for me to talk about, because
I am prone to go down that rabbit hole and
not ask you any of the other questions I have
listed on my piece of paper, because it's a fascinating area.
I used to cover futurism a few years ago, and

(04:55):
one of the things we talked about was the printing
of organs that level, and at the time it was
still very much in a prototype R and D infancy.
Simply printing something that can be on the nano scale
is mind boggling to me. Uh so, very exciting. Well
what led you to co found Aris Composites. How did

(05:18):
that journey? Yeah? Ethan Escowitz, who's the CEO of airis
one of the other co founders, really understood the market
of three D printing, but he also worked in conventional manufacturing.
Then I went over to Europe working on three D
printing and highly automated technolologies for three D printing to
kind of get a number of the process steps in
series so that you could effectively make three D print

(05:38):
more economical. And it was then I got in touch
back with with Ethan and he saw this huge opportunity basically,
this kind of consumer electronics space where metals are being
used and they're being pushed to the limit. You know,
you look at all of the housings today, they're all aluminium.
They're getting so thin, it's almost like an aluminium can
you get any thinner um? You deal with foil and
you lose all kind of the structural integratty of the metal.

(06:01):
Carbon fiber composites are so much stronger than metals, but
you're not able to get that performance out of them
at the level for consumer electronics because you have to
align all the fibers in the right way, and in
order to do that, you're dealing with people hand laying
it up, so it's never cost effective. And that's kind
of one of the things people had always complained about composites.

(06:21):
You know, they're so expensive. We can never use composites
here because look at the cost per pound. But what
most people are missing when when they just look at
the material cost, is what's what's actually the final product cost?
And you look at the final product costs for composites,
like on a pie chart, and you see that the
majority of the pie is taken up in process costs. Yeah,
materials are more expensive than metals by a per pound basis,

(06:42):
but you can use less material than you would require
of metal, and you can do it in a near
net process without ways, and all of a sudden you
have a product that can compete, you know, with the
with the cost of complex metal assemblies. And that's the
kind of the opportunity to work in this space and
to go to take it to mass production was something
that was just really excited. That's fantastic, and so, like

(07:07):
you say, because you're using less actual material to accomplish
the same thing if you were to rely upon stuff
like metal like aluminum. Really that focus then is on
figuring out the optimized process of production and then figuring
out how to scale that. How do you tackle the
scaling issue. Yeah, it's a big one, and this one

(07:29):
is is where we relied as much as we could
on how people have scaled products for the last hundred years.
And when you look at you know, the vast majority
of products made today, they're stamped, formed, molded, and that
pretty much captures this you know, ten trillion dollar manufacturing market.
And I have spent about a decade in the three

(07:49):
D printing space, and all the three D printing space
is really focused on this low volume market. That's a
tiny sliver of this manufacturing market, and it's certainly going
to grow more. More stuff will be made through three
D printing. But but you kind of look around you
and you start to think, is everything going to be
mass customized and everything gonna be made, you know, to
fit me? And that was I think, you know, kind
of the thought process maybe about ten years ago, and

(08:11):
more and more people are realizing that's actually not the case. Right,
Like a medium size shirt fits pretty well, you know,
the computers are the right size footwear. You know, in
between sizes good. It doesn't need to be exact, and
there's no clear benefit to doing a little bit more
in the in the customization part. So from all of that,
getting back to your question around you know, how do
we scale it? How do we go about that? It

(08:32):
was this added and molding process um you know that
we developed that combines these benefits of three D printing
that give you the design freedom and the fiber alignment
required with the high performance materials you see in aerospace composits,
and you know the third piece. And really, what what
makes us unique when when you kind of look around
at other manufacturing technologies or manufacturing startups, is that we

(08:54):
just we we took from the molding world, like we
use hard tooling. We spend the time and the effort
to set up a line, We pay the capex costs
because we're focused on making parts, not one, ten, a hundred,
but millions to hundreds of millions of parts per year.
That's our market and that's why, you know, we actually
are so separate and different from you know, the three
D printing world now, and in some ways we collaborate

(09:16):
with a number of people in that space because you know,
we're just in such different markets. Right. That's fantastic too. Yeah.
I like that you've really found this particular entry point
and are focusing on this. And the more I learned,
the more fascinated I become in the subject. This is
also a really cool chance for me to learn more
about what your responsibilities are. How do you view your

(09:40):
responsibilities as CTO. I get the sense that your role
as CTO is different from maybe a CTO of a
company that's been around for like, you know, seven decades
or something. Sure, you know, simply if it's looking ahead, well,
protecting the technology that we've built and growing that to
meet the needs that we have. Right so, looking ahead

(10:01):
and really understanding what is the technology, the materials, the software,
you know, the systems of process of what all will
we need to deliver on the hundreds of millions of
parts that we have coming two years from now. So
there's kind of a very real targeted goal around what
we know we need to do with the customers we
have to deliver, and there's aspects of that R and

(10:23):
D that are not necessarily deterministic, but at least the
end goal is and how we get there is still
what we need to figure out. The other aspect of
my role is looking into the industries we aren't in
and how are we going to grow those industries and
what are the types of products and technologies will need
to get their Medical is my background, and so that's
that's certainly an industry that's a personal interest, but one

(10:44):
that's a little farther off. There's you know, aerospace, industrial construction, wind,
all of these these we have early engagements with and
you know, in a CTO, I'm looking at those engagements
understanding within you know, these large markets, what are the
best products for us to focus us on, and then
with those products, what are the technologies that we need
to build to deliver products in those spaces. I find

(11:07):
that leaders of your caliber really focus in on defining
what the outcome needs to be and then they look
for the technological solutions either from without or they develop
it from within to achieve that outcome. What are some
of the unique challenges or opportunities that you face as
CTO when you are just starting up a company is

(11:27):
balancing all the ideas come from the people coming in
that have amazing experiences in tangential spaces that are trying
to bring in novel ideas and thoughts and processes. A
big challenges how do we decide what we're going to
focus on now. It's this balance of we can't give
up the opportunity to have a post it note type

(11:48):
of discovery and we've had actually several of the company
one lad to you know, a capability to create thinner
structures than any other technology can create. We weren't setting
out to make the thinnest possible shape we could ever make,
but it was a byproduct of trying to work in
a completely other area. And similarly, we've made advancements in
bio based materials through that kind of same mechanism. So

(12:10):
you have this kind of way in which people can
organically focus on things they're interested in and perhaps come
up with an innovation, and that's exciting, and you have
to leave some space for that. But on the other end,
as a startup, you have the practical consideration of you
need to figure out what's going to make the most
money for the company with the least amount of time
or effort. So you have the practical consideration, we gotta

(12:31):
make money, we gotta make it fast, but we need
to make sure that we're capturing through I P and
and other protective measures, and we're developing, you know, new
technology that could give us even more of an edge.
I think again, it's like there's tons of ideas, tons
of opportunities of things to pursue, and the CTO is
certainly part of the role is helping to grow and
figure out those ideas. I think it's the ability to

(12:52):
kind of prioritize and and select what do we pursue immediately,
what do we hold on too, and then what do
we ignore entirely? And kind of reassessing that list on
a weekly and monthly basis is you know, is critical
in the early phases of a startup, I would imagine, So, yeah,
that flexibility is something of key importance and being able
to balance out the desire to pursue innovation versus the

(13:17):
practical needs of making your numbers. You know, I'm glad
to hear that it's something that's a continual process at
T Mobile. For business, unconventional thinking means we see things differently,
so you can focus on what matters most. Where some
see another small town, we see businesses in need of connectivity.

(13:41):
So we built the largest five G network to cover cities, towns,
and the most interstate miles in between. Where some see
a caller in a queue, we see an opportunity for
our experts to provide solutions without transfers. Where some see
another virtual meeting, we see five G enabling wireless real
time translations almost anywhere you do business. Our unique approach

(14:02):
has made us the leader in five G, number one
in customer satisfaction, and a partner who includes first class
benefits like five G and every plan so you get
it all without trade offs. Unconventional thinking is better for
business T Mobile for Business Open Signal Awards T Mobile
as America's passes five G network USA five G User
experience Report to capable device required coverage not available in

(14:23):
some areas. Some uses may require certain planner features. CE
mobile dot Com. For Jower Award information, visit JD power
dot Com Slash Awards. So I assume that arists composites
has to do a lot of collaboration with clients in
order to create the things that the clients are looking for.

(14:46):
Can you kind of give us some insight onto what
collaboration with your clients looks like. Yeah, no, it's great,
and it's it's actually not typical. Our relationships range a
lot depending on who we're working and their experience with composites.
There's there's kind of this first phase of education um
that may or may not be needed depending on who
we're working with. Then we focus really on what the

(15:09):
output is of this part. It's it's not just simply
let's make a part that exists today. You know, an
automotive and aerial spaces referred to as kind of black aluminum.
When you try to just throw composites in and replace
the metal part, the design is really important. We want
to focus on are we dealing with the right design
that we can with the best design, and we really
focus on that element with the customer. We understand what

(15:29):
they need. After we get the design, we simulate the
performance again with our software, and then we start, you know,
making the pieces for for our customer. That's kind of
the life cycle of it. And one, you know, one
great example that you know, they became public earlier this
year is our collaboration with Skydia where we took a bracket.
It was seventeen different pieces machined out of composite machine
out of aluminum in China. We took all seventeen pieces

(15:51):
we made into one single piece, and with that pace,
we were able to reduce, you know, the way by
we increase the impact performance. We added new cosmetic capabilities.
We we created um antenna windows using glass fiber and
a carbon fiber construction, so tons of different benefits and
we were able to drive all of that because we're
able to start with him at the very beginning saying

(16:12):
what are you trying to achieve with this bracket and
then really kind of radically going through a you know,
a redesign process to deliver the best performance for them. Right. So, really,
the earlier you're involved, I imagine the smoother the collaboration
tends to be because it can actually become part of
a design process. I think it's a great way for
us to segue into some discussion about emerging technologies and

(16:34):
your view of various emerging technologies and what you feel
about them and whether or not you are incorporating them
in various ways. That aris composites, But one is that
what do you see as the future of composites. Yeah,
I think the future of composites it comes really back
to design. It's designing the right part to take advantage

(16:56):
of the composite performance and be more involved in design
and not trying to kind of take and replace, you know,
dumb parts so to speak. With composites. And the other
big element that plays into design is integration. I think
there'll be fewer and fewer dumb parts that just play
a role one one function. They're either thermal to remove heat,

(17:16):
they're electrical to conduct a signal, they're mechanical to maintain
rigidity in an area. Right, there's all these kind of
properties and materials that are introduced to serve one purpose.
But integration and the capabilities of composites through integration means
that we'll see more parts. Metal inserts, antenna's, wireless charging

(17:38):
coils like these are all examples of products we've built
into composites here at Eris, and I think we're going
to see more and more of that. Where you have
a structure or a shell that contains basically all all
of the wires needed to transmit signals, that contains elements
of structural health moniting so you can understand how that
part performs over time. It contains the antenna so that

(17:58):
you can conduct the signal into or out of the
device um and it contains the chips that are needed
to run it with integrated battery. We're seeing a lot
of this come together already. You know, you look at
air pods as an example. You look at some of
the A R v R stuff that's coming. It's moving
in that direction. I think we're going to start to
see composites playing a larger role in these structures as
we look into the next decade. I imagine that one

(18:20):
area will probably see a lot of development in along
with composites would be Internet of things because as you're
pointing out this idea of materials that can fulfill more
than one function and simplify things, and we're seeing the
proliferation of you know, inexpensive sensors in all sorts of
different applications. I would think that composites would play a

(18:44):
huge role in that continuing to grow absolutely. Yeah. And
and again it comes to integration, you know, and embedded electronics.
You know, you see some of it with just people
doing this with plastics, but it's an inferior material where
you can have fiber. You can actually conduct some of
the signal through the fiber. Depend on what fiber you're using,
you can embed you know, metal wire through to be

(19:05):
even more even more conductive. When you when you have
a composite, you have a number of materials that are
already coming together. Let's add more materials and then those
huge ease of those materials for a specific outcome and
integrating all of that to create this kind of right,
the Internet of things that we're seeing all around us
is yeah, it is only going to grow. Yeah, And
I think in many ways this is similar to what

(19:27):
we were talking about at the top of the show,
where we said you define a problem and then you
look for the technologies to help solve that problem. It's
really more about what's the outcome you want? How do
you best get there? Yeah, exactly. Well, let's let's talk
about another technology that is currently maturing and we're seeing
rolled out. I'm curious to get your thoughts on it

(19:49):
in general, and that is five G. And I love
the concept because I love the idea of having areas
where you've got that good five G concentration, you've got
high throughput and low latency. I imagine that with a
lot of the end result products we're talking about here,
we could easily see them taking advantage of that kind

(20:11):
of communication channel. What are your thoughts I should I'll
be the first to say I'm not I'm not an
expert in five G. For me, my response is probably
different than anybody else you've had on this podcast, and
that I'm more interested in what's what it's going to
do in the in the physical world. Five G is
certainly going to deliver a lot by exactly what you know,
what you discuss is going to be able to deliver
more more data faster than before and with lower latency.

(20:33):
But what does that mean in terms of how we're
going to build the infrastructure to support five G? And
because you know five G is operating at higher like
at higher frequencies, you end up with you know, shorter
distances that it can travel, So you need to put
up a number of these kind of base stations. You
have not out of these small sale based stations with
five G towers in them that need to be all

(20:56):
spread out in order for five G to kind of
fully capture a space or an area. How are you
going to make these the traditional ways? You know, you
come in with a team of three to five people.
You have you know, steel that you're forming, You're making
a lot of it on site, you're bringing some of
it in. You know, it takes a day, maybe multiple days,
a lot of labor and you get this part up
um so you use really cheap material, but you use

(21:17):
again kind of like what we're talking about earlier, but
high labor costs to get this final structure. And I think,
you know, five g's an opportunity where we can see
a change in how we think about the infrastructure. We
could use composites here, and with composites, again, we'll deal
with material that's more expensive on a propound basis, but
we can create modular composite structures that can be assembled
with maybe one person, maybe two people in a matter

(21:39):
of hours. You have up your five G tower, and
so you pay a little bit more on the raw
material cost, but you get it all up. And the
fact that they're super easy to assemble and they can
fit in the back of a truck instead of needing
you know, a huge kind of construction staff in sight
coming into to build it. I think from my side,
I'm really interested in seeing how that plays out and
and hopefully being involved in in really the growth of

(22:01):
this new industry and in the growth of a change
in infrastructure here. That's uh, that's the thing I hadn't
thought about before. But yeah, the idea of being able
to bring down the labor costs and to uh to
improve the speed at which you could install these components.
I mean that leads to a greater proliferation of the technology.

(22:21):
I like hearing these different perspectives. Are there any other
sort of emerging or maturing technologies you find really interesting,
whether connected to your work or just things that you're
curious about. Yeah, I think, I mean, you know what
one thing actually related to work that's emerging and also
that I've always been curious about, is really the renewable
material space. Sustainable materials, renewable materials like, but both those fields,

(22:44):
but in particular the renewable side. There's been a lot
of kind of recent research and I think we're on
the cusp of seeing more widespread proliferation of bio derived materials,
so not coming from petrochemical you know, precursors which in
addition to kind of coming from oil based product, they're
actually dependent then on the price of oil and and
and the refinement of that. And if you have some

(23:05):
bioderrived materials, they can be grown like for talking about
castor being for example, they can be grown in a
number of places and more easily sourced and have less
of an impact on the environment. We've seen for a
while now biodrived resins, those have those have existed, and
now we're seeing more research and more promising outcomes around

(23:27):
biodrived fibers. It will bring down the cost of carbon
fiber and it will make it much more sustainable. You
can get kind of the precursor to carbon fiber made
through a plant based source as opposed to having to
make it through the petrochemical precursors. And I'm excited about
that space and seeing that grow. That sounds really cool.
Of course, before I could let Riley go, I had

(23:48):
to ask him one more thing, what, in your mind
is the most misunderstood technology. I guess in the frame
of mind of this conversation, I had actually say antenna technology.
You uh, it's it's one that everyone talks about, and
certainly lots of people understand the first principles of you know, impedence, gain, attenuation,

(24:09):
signal like, the fundamental aspects of antenna's are well understood.
How antenna's integrate into complex structures and their performance in
those complex structures. I was actually baffled to find how
much of a black magic it is and a black
art it is. Still it's it's it's one of the
most critical aspects to everything around us, our phone, the wearables,

(24:31):
IoT computers, like every everything is dependent on how well
is that signal getting out of that device and able
to get captured by another device in process. Well, Riley,
this has been a pleasure. Thank you so much for
joining us, For our show. Yeah no, Jonathan again, thank
thank you so much for having me. It's an honor

(24:52):
to be here and to have talked with you about
all these topics. I very much enjoyed my conversation with Riley.
It's fascinating to see how some CTO challenges seem universal.
Whether it's a legacy company or a startup. The technology
behind the company's solutions is crucial, but just as important
as getting the right team in place to execute strategies

(25:13):
by leveraging those technologies. Clearly, composite materials stand to transform
products in all fields, from consumer electronics to spacecraft of
the future, and knowing that carbon fibers can augment the
functionality of electronics without adding extra weight and complexity is
really exciting. It means the devices of tomorrow have the

(25:34):
potential to be stronger, lighter, and more versatile than anything
we have today, and when you pair that with the
power of five G communications, the applications are truly endless.
Make certain you join us for future episodes of The
Restless Ones, where I'll speak with more leaders who aren't
satisfied with following trends, they're the ones setting them. I'm

(25:56):
Jonathan Strickland at T Mobile. For business, unconventional thinking means
we see things differently, so you can focus on what
matters most. That's why we've become the leader in five G,
number one in customer satisfaction, and a partner who includes
five G in every plan so you get it all.

(26:17):
Unconventional thinking is better for business. Open Signal Awards TEA
Mobile as America's pasts five D Network US say five
G Who's a experience of court your like twenty twenty
one Capable device acquired covers not available in some areas
and uses require certain point for fatures site mobile do com.
For dpowerwenty Award information, visit JD power dot com. Splash
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