We had a chance to talk with Aaron Knape, President of Dynamic Air Shelters, about their blast-proof buildings and how these buildings improve the safety of workers, soldiers, and anyone that must work in a blast threatened area.
Please excuse any typos, below is a hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio, Texasbusinessradio.com. If you are driving and can’t take notes. That’s quite all right. Texasbusinessradio.com were going to have a links to all of these guys that we’re talking to right from there. Get your calls in 844-814-8144 is a 24 hour call in line. Get to calls in. We’re going to get the experts on here to answer them. God bless America. There are a million different ways to make money. And we have a gentleman in here that has a niche with in a niche. This is going to be a whole lot of fun, because I love these stories about how some little corner of the world gets discovered and a market is discovered for it. Next thing you know there’s a company doing something that most people probably don’t even realize is a thing. So we’re going to jump into it here real quick. I’m Matt Register, your host and in the co-host chair Jay Curry is here. And we have Aaron Knape.
Aaron Knape: Knape.
Matt Register: Knape, we have Aaron Knape, he is the president. I told you I was going to end up butchering it. He is the president of Dynamic Air Shelters that is based in Canada but is… has an office here in Houston.
Aaron Knape: That’s correct.
Matt Register: So Aaron welcome to the show. Tell me about the Dynamic Air Shelters. What do you do? Who do you do it to?
Aaron Knape: Yeah. First of all thanks for having me on the show. And so Dynamic Air Shelters we manufacture air inflated blast resistant buildings. And so a lot of people assume well that’s a that’s a military application, great for you guys. Surprisingly enough that’s not our core market. Our core market are the oil and gas refiners, the petrochemical facilities around the world because they have a massive and immediate need for this type of product.
Matt Register: Well no doubt, because what happens in a blast is that, that over pressure, that blast wave that comes out. Traditional construction, it will level it. Right? It really doesn’t even matter what it’s made out of. It’s going to exert pressure on it and it is going to break the building. Right?
Aaron Knape: That’s absolutely right. You know the.. if you look at past incidents that’s really been what’s injured or kill a lot of people, especially in the industrial world. It’s not the shock wave or the over pressure wave itself. It’s the collapse of those structures. After that over pressure wave hits those structures. So the mindset in the industry has been well let’s make something that bigger and harder and stronger and completely defeat that wave and dynamic took the opposite approach.
Matt Register: Let’s make something that’s infinitely flexible. Right? They can absorb it and move on intact. Tell me a little bit about how this got started. We were talking during the break and this is an interesting story where your customers kind of design the product for you.
Aaron Knape: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, people will say, you know, to us “you guys are super innovative, you create some of the neatest products”. And my response to them is always “well, it’s not us inventing these products it’s the clients, it’s the customers because we take the time to listen to them and make these products a reality”. So for this particular product the blast resistant air shelter. We had a client, we were working in an industrial environment with a standard air inflated structure and they said and we could really use something like this that’s blast resistant. Lightweight. None of this really big rigid stuff. We don’t have the time, effort or the energy or the money to do this. And we said well sure we can make this thing blast resistant, absolutely. Ran back to the office and started calling engineers. Someone who could help, who can help us confirm this. But we knew it would work. You know we’ve got a really good group of guys who we may not be engineers or Ph.D.s but we can look at a structure, we can look at a at a situation in a scenario and understand if it’s at least going to work. Let’s go down that path. And so we started to test this structure based off of our clients request and computer data said “Yeah, it should absolutely work”. We took that to the military. They in turn had a lot of fun trying to blow it up, trying to destroy it.
Matt Register: Sure.
Aaron Knape: And they couldn’t do it. And so low and behold the blast resistant air inflated structure was born.
Matt Register: And it became a thing. That’s something beautiful. So who in the world needs something like this.
Aaron Knape: So our primary customers are the refineries and the chemical plants. And what happened after there was an explosion at a facility in Texas City in 2005. The industry standards really began to change. There was a big knee jerk reaction, where we pulled all workers out of these areas where there was the potential for an explosion.
Matt Register: Sure.
Aaron Knape: And that led to major collapses in productivity and effectiveness. And so it’s people like that, who have a big need to regain that lost productivity. But more importantly keep their workers safe. And so our structure allows them to take those workers that have been moved far away, put them back in closer to the work and keep them safe. So we work with all of the majors here in North America and we’re global as well. So we work with them everywhere.
Matt Register: Oh, that’s fascinating. I guess I didn’t realize but it makes sense that the killer in a blast is not the… is not the pressure and the over pressure blast wave. It is the collapsing of the building that they are in. Right? And that kind of material. Walk me through a little bit about what makes… what is the difference between an inflatable building and a blast resistant inflatable building. Is this the raw material you’re using.
Aaron Knape: So, the neat thing about our structures is that we we have a simple philosophy of do what you can, try to do amazing things with standard materials. That’s why our shelters don’t cost millions and millions of dollars. We’re not making them out of Kevlar. We’re not making them out of special space age fabrics. We work with physics and we actually take those blast waves and those shock waves and we manipulate them, we change the direction, we deflect them, if you will. So that we don’t have to use these expensive materials. But the secret lies in that and that engineering on the structural design itself the anchoring methodologies of the structure. Not so much in the materials. Do the materials contribute to the blast resistance? Absolutely! They bend, they move, they flex, they give up that.
Matt Register: But that’s not your secret sauce because the secret sauce is in the design.
Aaron Knape: Absolute.
Matt Register: And how it deflects. I would also imagine you have a component of this where, you know, the blowers you know, had to be spark, you know, spark resist and things like that because you’re operating in an environment. You don’t want your equipment to be the one to spark the blast.
Aaron Knape: Yeah absolutely. I mean we provide all those options whether it’s got to be explosion proof or spark resistant or not. Those are certainly things that we supply, we work with. We never… well are… probably one of our problems is we have a hard time telling the client no, if they make a request.
Jay Curry: Now these are just to be clear. When I first heard about this I thought well, you’re building these around places where they’re doing explosions. But you’re… this is where people are inside the structure, who are working on stuff that might explode.
Aaron Knape: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re in tremendous number of refineries and chemical plants around the world. I think at last count we were covering or protecting people, if you will, up in the tens of thousands working inside refineries and chemical plants.
Matt Register: Now, I certainly see the military application of it. Right? And that is a portion of yours. Is this all American military to some foreign military as well.
Aaron Knape: No, we work with a lot of the Canadian military and the U.S. military as well. And the applications there are simply the fact that we. So to that point, Matt we create structures that are larger than anyone else can create for air inflated structure. So we talked to the military about things like, well we need to cover these these these Chinook helicopters. How are we going to have this portable hangar for a C-130 when we land out in the middle of the desert? We can provide and design those types of structures of that scale. The other part of that is that we do provide ballistic protection. So you know a lot of people, even in the industrial environment, look at our shelters and say well how are you going to stop a flying piece of debris. All right. We have options for that too. We’ve got walls that will stop pieces of pipe. We’ve got walls that will stop 50 caliber sniper rifle fire, RPG, artillery rounds etc. We can mitigate a tremendous amount of…
Jay Curry: This is sophisticated stuff isn’t it?
Aaron Knape: You know it kind of is.
Jay Curry: When I’m thinking of a big building and you’ve got all kinds of things going on you can’t have fumes. You’ve got to be controlling of the weather on the inside.
Aaron Knape: Absolutely.
Jay Curry: Pretty sophisticated.
Aaron Knape: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Matt Register: All right. Aaron Knape, who’s the president of Dynamic Air Shelters here in Houston. Dynamicairshelters.com is the Web site. I want to thank you for joining us.
Aaron Knape: Thank you for having me.
Jay Curry: Very interesting story, thank you.
Matt Register: It is a very fascinating story and I love.
Jay Curry: Who would’ve thought?
Matt Register: I mean I didn’t even know this was the thing. Right? And God bless America. There’s a really nice company.
Jay Curry: You can make a good living if you can figure out a unique product like this.
Matt Register: That’s exactly what it’s all about. So Aaron thank you very much for joining us guys. We got to go to break, we’re out of time. Going to go pay a couple of bills. We’re going be right back. We’re just we’re just getting warmed up. Don’t even have time to go anywhere. We’re going to be right back right after this.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.