Tucson Embedded Systems may just be the model for how the U.S. can regain its high-tech and manufacturing might.
The company’s niche is low-cost, repeat: low-cost, high-tech software and hardware engineering, including the oxygen delivery system for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and radio integration systems for Army helicopters.
Engineering and service provider aside, Tucson Embedded set up Tucson Assembly-Solutions in November 2009 to give the company a circuit card assembly plant to manufacture its own technology and contract out to manufacture other companies’ circuit boards.
The company also works with nearby Raytheon Missile Systems in engineering services for research and development. Raytheon has a long history of supporting local small business.
The manufacturing wing, just starting to take hold, is projected to take Tucson Embedded’s annual revenue from $12 million this year to $35 million in 2012 and higher in subsequent years.
Company owners David Crowe, Dennis Kenman, Sean Mulholland and Antonio Procopio reject the offshore manufacturing mantra embraced in much of corporate America.
“From a country perspective, if you start losing manufacturing, you stop having the ability to design, apply and create the next product,” said Crowe, company president. “It’s frustrating that we (as a country) are sending all our work overseas. Small business can do it, but we don’t. We are working very hard to do that.”
Tucson Embedded Systems won’t be pigeonholed as a software engineering firm.
“I’ve reinvented us many times,” Crowe said. “We move where opportunity is. We don’t stay in one place.”
The one place they do stay is providing high-tech gadgets at a low enough cost that this Tucson company, with barely 90 employees, has its technology aboard the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Army Chinook and Apache helicopters and aboard Swedish Navy ships.
“Small businesses typically have a lower overhead,” said Crowe, a graduate of University of Arizona’s College of Engineering. “We can quickly put engineers on a problem.”
Such as the call they got from the Army eight years ago.
“They asked us ‘How can we integrate the radio devices on helicopters faster and cheaper?’” Mulholland recalled. “We are saving the U.S. money, reducing complexity and making it all reusable.”
Tucson Embedded integrates the command and control of radios operating on different wave forms so that they all appear on the pilot’s display screen, which wasn’t happening prior to the Tucson firm’s software innovation.
The company also landed the contract from B/E Aerospace for the embedded software design of the oxygen delivery system for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, where engineers sought to reduce the aircraft’s weight as much as possible.
“In a normal airline, they turn on the oxygen for all the emergency masks and the oxygen stays on. That’s a lot of weight,” Crowe said. “We delivered the software for the oxygen deliver card, which turns the oxygen on and off during your breathing cycle.”
Tucson Embedded has worked with B/E Aerospace’s Kelly Rash for the full six years of the Dreamliner development.
“They are very responsive to our needs,” said Rash, project manager for the oxygen system. “Most of the time I talked directly with one of the owners or the president. They were enjoyable to work with.”
Closer to home, Tucson Embedded also got a call from a mining technology company seeking a way to keep track of the location of vehicles at a vast mine site.
Tucson Embedded came up with a hand-sized asset tracker that primarily is a global positioning unit that can radio back a vehicle’s location. But sensors can also be attached to monitor chosen functions of vehicles, and the tracker has a wireless switch.
“They have a light on a mobile water tower they want to turn on, they can do it with the asset tracker,” Crowe said.
Need you guess what attracted the mining company to Tucson Embedded? Low cost for the wireless gizmo. About 50 asset trackers are being tested now at a mine site and ultimately 500 trackers will roam mine premises.
The asset tracker is the first Tucson Embedded technology the company will manufacture itself.
Tucson Embedded currently is in research and development for a full-authority digital engine control for gas turbine engines that drive power generators. This would monitor speed and temperature and control the fuel flow. The company is targeting the U.S. and Swedish navies for this technology.
Tucson Embedded was founded in 1997 and has its headquarters, engineering and design offices in northeast Tucson. But the company’s revenue engine from here on out will be the pair of manufacturing structures near Tucson International Airport that TES added in 2007.