Itronix Corp.s entry into new, and potentially huge, aerospace markets is lifting off.
The Spokane-based manufacturer of durable, wireless computers recently has started pilot programs with three major aerospace companies and one military agency, and Itronix managers say they expect those initial efforts to translate into sales to airlines, airplane manufacturers, and airplane-parts makers.
Eventually, Itronix hopes to have a substantial presence in aerospace.
Our company has traditionally pursued a vertical market until we dominate in that market, says Michael Ortman, Itronixs industry marketing manager for aerospace and airline support. In such an approach, a company tries to cover all ends of a market as Itronix has done by getting most telecommunications providers, for example, to use its computers, Ortman says. We intend to do the same thing with aerospace, he says.
The pilot programs involve testing versions of the companys hand-held computer, called the T5200, and its laptop computer, called the X-C 6250 Pro, that have been programmed to assist with airplane maintenance or airplane manufacturing.
In one of the pilot programs, Itronix already has tested successfully portable maintenance aid software used by Boeing Co., Ortman says. Tests with that system are ongoing. He declines to name companies involved with other experiments, but says those pilot programs involve two major airlines and one military agency.
Itronix managers say they currently are working to set up pilot programs with other aerospace companies. The programs havent translated to sales yet, but Ortman says selling ruggedized computers in the aerospace industry has the potential to be as big as the companys current largest market, the telecommunications industry.
The company has sold its products to telecommunications companies, including industry giants such as MCI Telecommunications Inc., Bell South, and US West Communications Inc., since its inception in 1992. Some of those relationships date back to the mid-80s, before Spokane-based Itron Inc. spun off its portable-computer division into what became Itronix.
Since then, that manufacturing entityfirst as an Itron division and then as Itronixhas sold about 60,000 units to telecommunications customers, accounting for about $200 million in sales, Itronix marketing communications manager Bob Morrow says.
Small, rugged computers have a number of potential uses in the aerospace industry, but few makers of such devices have penetrated that market, Ortman says. He says few products are rugged enough to meet the aerospace industrys expectations. Also, most of the software applications and digitized publications that would be used on such a computer werent widely available until recently.
Potential uses Itronix has discussed with aerospace companies include:
Ramp and transit maintenance. With Itronixs products, maintenance workers would be able to monitor airplanes in flight and detect mechanical problems with an aircraft. If a problem were discovered, the maintenance workers would be able to assess the problem while the plane was airborne and ideally would be ready to repair the plane when it touched down.
Thats where the lowest hanging fruit is, in terms of potential sales, Ortman says. Thats where theres the most demand.
Scheduled maintenance. Workers performing less time-sensitive maintenance could store manuals and regulations in a database on a laptop computer, using it as a reference instead of thumbing through a manual each time a question arose.
Fuel monitoring. Fuel-station employees would track fueling and fuel supplies with a computer, likely a hand-held model, Ortman says.
Cargo logistics. Workers would track luggage or other types of cargo.
On-board operations. Ortman says airlines have approached the company about potential uses for the airlines in-flight staff. Talks are preliminary, however, and he says he doesnt know exactly how the products would be used by in-flight staff.
Other new markets
While preparing to penetrate the aerospace industry, the company also is making inroads into the public sector, selling its products to public-safety agencies, other governmental entities, and military units, Morrow says.
Thus far, Itronix has made a handful of sales in that area, selling small quantities of units to the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and highway patrol divisions in Texas and North Carolina, for example.
While Itronix sales teams are targeting these markets, the company also has signed deals with two national distributing companies that will sell Itronix products.
Morrow says those companies, which are located in other parts of the U.S., typically will handle smaller orders of 100 units or less, while the Itronix sales teams in those areas generally will focus on larger orders, Morrow says.
Itronix, a subsidiary of Burlington, Maine-based Dynatech Corp., employs about 500 employees, most of whom are stationed in Spokane. Itronix posted sales of more than $100 million last year, but declines to disclose its net revenue.
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