Isothermal Systems Research Inc., a Liberty Lake maker of cooling technologies for electronic components, says it expects to employ as many as 1,000 people within the next five years as it broadens its focus from being mostly a defense contractor to supplying products to the commercial sector.
The company, which employs 180 people here plus another 20 at a research-and-development facility in Pullman, Wash., likely will hire 50 additional employees here this year, says President Jeff Severs. About half of the companys employees are engineers, Severs says.
Meanwhile, ISR is bursting at the seams in the 47,000-square-foot building it leases at 2218 N. Molter, and the company is looking for about 10,000 square feet of additional space here to use in the near term while it decides whether to build or lease a much larger facility later, he says.
About 95 percent of the $32 million in revenue ISR posted last year came from U.S. military contracts, and Severs expects volume from defense contracts to grow by about 25 percent a year over the next five years. Severs says, however, that ISR now wants to expand the marketing of its patented SprayCool technology into the commercial sector, and expects that by the end of that five-year period, commercial revenues will total more than half of those from military contracts.
Eventually, we want commercial revenue to be larger than military revenue, says Severs.
ISR, which was launched in Kentucky in 1988 by Washington State University alumnus Don Tilton, will undergo substantial changes over the next 18 months as it develops strategies for penetrating commercial markets, says Severs. He says ISR already has developed the technologies that it hopes to market to commercial users, but needs to determine which applications to market, to demonstrate that SprayCool is reliable for those applications, and to reduce their costs.
SprayCool technology uses a non-conductive dielectric fluid, rather than vents or fans, to cool electronic components. Dielectric substances permit passage of the lines of force of an electrostatic field, but conduct electrical current.
Heat is the issue for ISRs clients, says Severs, who notes that a major problem facing the future of electronics is the inability to control the heat created by high-tech components.
ISR offers two basic alternatives.
The more-expensive, higher-performance SprayCool global system encapsulates an electronic component and immerses it in an undulating combination of dielectric spray and liquid. The system uses evaporation to pull heat away from electrical components and dissipates that heat to the outside environment. Because the fluid doesnt conduct electricity, the electronics can run when wet with its fluid. A thermal management unit continuously transitions vapor back to that form of liquid.
Heat from the global cooling system can be dissipated as radiated heat through the box that encapsulates the electronic component and includes the heating system or, in the case of some weapons avionics, by cooling the dielectric vapor with a liquid to liquid heat exchange using the planes fuel, says Karsten Olson, ISR spokesman. He says the dielectric spray is directed on the hot spots of the electronic board.
That technology was first applied in about 1998, when the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force began integrating it into the componentry of weapons systems to address the problem of electrical overheating. Because they are completely sealed, such global cooling systems also protect the electronics from dust and salt air. An about one-cubic-foot SprayCool global box designed to protect electronics on the Marine Corps new $1 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle can range in price from $40,000 to $70,000, says Severs. SprayCool global units for other military weapons sell for as much as $150,000 each.
ISRs second type of product is a SprayModule system thats intended to replace the standard heat-control unit found in many commercial electronics, such as computer servers. It uses the same dielectric fluid and spray as the global system does, but delivers them without having the component encapsulated or getting it wet.
Since the early 1990s, ISR has received 13 patents in the area of spray cooling, and there are a lot more on the way, says Severs.
What is now a fast-growing company hasnt escaped periodic setbacks. In 1992, when President Reagan left office and his Star Wars space defense program was abandoned, ISR, which had been focusing all of its efforts on that program, almost went under, says Severs.
The company survived by landing research-and-development contracts with the military, and then began landing production contracts in 1998, as designers and builders of military goods began taking the SprayCool technology from the drawing boards to the field.
Since then, ISRs revenues have grown steadily, Olson says.
Severs says that former Spokane Congressman George Nethercutt was instrumental in securing legislative funding to demonstrate the value of spray cooling for weapons applications.
Along the way, ISR secured with the federal government an important funding vehicle that allows government agencies to contract with ISR without having to go back for legislative authorization. That current funding vehicle is for up to $29 million, and ISR can probably get that renewed for another $29 million when necessary, Severs says.
From that mechanism, ISR last year landed its biggest-ever contract, for $17 million, with the Department of Defense.
Possible spray-cooling applications Severs sees in the commercial sector include for hybrid cars, power supplies, and the ever-expanding future of computers. Employees could be recruited locally and nationwide in the next six months.
Although Severs expects ISR to generate little commercial revenue until 2007, he has a plan for marketing to the computer industry. He anticipates first approaching smaller makers of computer servers, then developing further ISRs initial contacts with giants such as IBM, Dell, and Apple.
They are watching us closely, says Severs. But being such a small company, we are seen as a big risk to them.
Don Tilton co-founded ISR with his brother Chuck Tilton. They launched the company in Lexington, Ky., then moved it to Seattle. In 1996, it moved to Clarkston, Wash. It began moving most of its operations to Liberty Lake in 2002, but left its research and development operation in Clarkston. It moved R&D to Pullman in December.
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