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Friday, Jul 12, 2024

Long-Time Switch Maker Expands into Sensors

Aerospace switch and sensor manufacturer Hydra-Electric Co. marks its 70th anniversary in business this year. The Burbank company is a pioneer of sorts in the aerospace industry, having provided components on such aircraft as the U2 spy plane, the Boeing Co. 707 and 747 passenger jets, the Lear business jet, and NASA rockets that took astronauts into Earth orbit and to the moon. “Every significant program had our products on them,” said Lisa Leight, marketing director. “Some airplanes had as many as 36 of our switches,” added Sylvia Avina, a long-time employee who knew Allen Davis, the company founder. Davis founded Hydra-Electric in 1948 in the same building near the Hollywood Burbank Airport that it still occupies albeit with an addition attached. Avina and Leight describe Davis, who passed away in 2015, as the consummate tinkerer who would come to the office as early as 4 a.m. some days. “Mr. Davis was an inventor,” said Bob Guziak, a vice president in engineering. “He liked to push the envelope on what was possible.” Guziak and Tim Burmood, director of engineering, were brought to the company by Davis as he ramped up the transition from making switches to sensors. The difference between the two parts is that a pressure switch is binary, meaning it turns on and off. “Sensors will give you a continual output, so you can monitor the health of a system better that way,” Burmood said. The sensor market is becoming more important for Hydra-Electric, Leight said. The use of composite materials on the body of airplanes makes them more susceptible to lighting strikes. That in turn makes the measurement devices on board more susceptible as well, she added. “As all these other things advance, it impacts how the measurement devices also have to advance to accommodate all these changes,” Leight said. When it comes to sensors, Burmood admitted that Hydr-Electric is a small player in the market but one that is nipping at the feet of larger competitors. Those include Kulite Semiconductor Products Inc., Ametek Inc., Esterline Technologies Corp. and GE Druck, an affiliate of General Electric Co. “That is a position I like to be in because we are not too big that we bother them, and we are just the right size that they don’t mind letting us win business,” Burmood said. Driverless Car Monitors Another company celebrating its anniversary is Instrumentation Technology Systems, a Northridge developer and manufacturer of a behavior monitor for autonomous vehicles. The company marked 40 years in business last month, with a catered lunch attended by about 40 people at its offices and manufacturing space at 19360 Business Center Drive. While the company has been around since 1967, it was in 1978 that it was reorganized and took on its current name. Chief Executive Paul Hightower bought the company in 2006. ITS has been in the same building all that time and Hightower said he has enough space to triple the business and still not have to move. He has a good relationship with the landlord, a good lease rate and he likes the location, which has plenty of parking. “There was no particular motivation to move unless it was to make ourselves feel better,” Hightower said. “But new paint and carpet can do that.” The company’s core business is developing and manufacturing equipment that pairs data with video collection and testing equipment used at military bases and other government installations. But it is in the autonomous vehicle market where Hightower wants ITS to make its mark. He originally envisioned the company’s product as a “black box” for driverless cars. That approach, however, came with negative connections to accidents. So now Hightower has positioned the product as an autonomous vehicle behavior monitor and is beginning to see some interest as the company puts itself out to the industry. “It is starting to get people to pay attention,” Hightower said. “I am actually starting to get emails that I send out now answered, which is a big deal when you are trying to be a new player.” Last month, Hightower met with the chief executive of a Gardena trucking company to discuss having ITS make a piece of equipment similar to the behavior monitor that can plug into the trucks. With data and video collection, the trucking company can manage its dispatching better and measure the performance of drivers, Hightower said. “I am excited because to do the front end he needs is a big chunk of what we have to do to have an autonomous vehicle product,” he added. “This may be a little crack in the dam. So that is exciting for us.” Staff Reporter Mark R. Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or [email protected].

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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