Sunday, June 23, 2013

Archangel Systems, Auburn, Alabama: Tech company helping top aircraft fly

KRISTEN OLIVER, The Opelika Auburn News

Published 6:38 am, Sunday, June 23, 2013

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — About 20 years ago, Dr. Michael Greene took a leap of faith and started his own aerospace and automotive company.

He said it was a decision he made "foolishly."

"I was a professor of electrical engineering at (Auburn) University," Greene said. "I had been a pilot for a long time and I was unhappy with the state of instrumentation in my plane. I thought I could do better, did do better, but it wasn't commercially successful."

Greene attributed his company's initial struggles to the crash of the general aviation market in the early 2000s, but like any good pilot, he recognized the time to change course.

"We kind of shifted gears with the company," said Greene, who is CEO and chairman of the board. "We were down to three employees and we started doing more contracting for the military and for NASA, and had the idea we would come back with products when we got the technology to a certain level."

That's exactly what his company, Archangel Systems, did.

Today, Archangel employs approximately 32 people, 18 of whom are engineers and many of whom are Auburn graduates.

"You would think being in a relatively small (area) it would be difficult to hire people," said Kitty Greene, Michael's wife and the company president. "But I think we're just very centrally located with Auburn University and the aviation school down near Fort Rucker."

Archangel is a world leader in the development and manufacturing of inertial sensing equipment, or, more specifically, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) inertial sensing equipment and systems. Aviation leaders such as Boeing, Elbit Systems, Marenco Swisshelicopter, branches of the United States military and the Australian Ministry of Defense are some of the company's clients.

"What we build here primarily are what's known as inertial measurement units, which go into various things that are used in aircrafts or submarines for stability or to measure their orientation," Michael Greene said.

He said they also perform custom engineering, meaning they make products or variations of products specifically for clients.

"They want a product that's sort of like what we have, but not exactly because they have very specific needs," he said. "What we'll do is some engineering work and turn it into a new product that is theirs."

The company's marketing director promotes products at various trade shows.

"It's interesting because I think the main way people hear about us is by word of mouth," Kitty said. "They hear Boeing is using our product and say, 'If it's good enough for Boeing, maybe I'll contact them.' And the Internet has changed the way you market your products."

The product

Archangel's most popular product is an Air Data Attitude Heading Reference System. Michael Greene said the two prototypes, the AHR150A and AHR300A, are quickly becoming the standards in aviation.

"Our premiere product (the AHR150A) we've been building since about 2005 and started selling in about 2009," he said. "Now we have a total of four or five products."

Every product is developed, manufactured and elaborately tested in the facility on Pumphrey Avenue. Equipment such as the SMTmax "pick & place" machine places parts smaller than ants onto the boards that make up the sensors.

"After they are done here they go through a reflow oven," Michael said. ". Then they are coated in a material that pretty much makes them waterproof. This is because they are operating in environments like in aircrafts where they may sit and be in use for 10 to 12 years."

After coating, the boards are assembled into the final product, which is rigorously tested.

"We do thermal calibrations, inertial calibrations, air data calibrations and then thermal cycling to try and catch any infant mortality," Michael said. "In most electronics, 90 percent of the failures are going to happen in the first few hours, so you run them through temperature cycles to try and force those failures to happen before you ship the product. You need this particular device to keep your plane flying stably, so you certainly prefer that it not quit."

After a product is calibrated, it's mounted on a vibration table to test its durability. Following vibration, it's tested a final time to make sure it meets specifications.

"This is all basically here to try and catch anything from going out the door that's bad," Michael Greene said.

Michael Greene said the company has experienced rapid growth in the last three to five years and is preparing for renovations to improve the facility's flow. He said he's pleased about the growth and believes it's a reflection of Lee County's workforce.

"We've been on the same track for the last 12 years," Michael Greene said. "And the (AHR150A) we're going to ship more than twice as many this year as we did last year, and we're expecting next year to ship twice as many as this year. So we are doubling every year on the production side."

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