Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mech-Tronics: Company has a firm grip on aircraft 'black box'

Gene DeMuro, is president of Mech-Tronics in Melrose Park, Illinois. The family-owned company will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in business this year.

When Gene DeMuro steps onto a commercial jet, he's likely to tell you exactly where his company's products are on board that aircraft.

And while you probably won't see or touch them during the flight, take note that those products are playing an integral role in the plane's structure and operation.

DeMuro is president of Mech-Tronics, a metal fabrication company in Melrose Park. The family-run business -- which will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year -- custom builds parts and devices for a number of industries. About two-thirds of the company's business comes from the aerospace industry, building pieces ranging from metal frames and bezels that hold flat-screen panels on commercial and private jets to metal parts that are on the International Space Station, according to DeMuro.

Gene DeMuro, president of Mech-Tronics, with the nearly indestructible container that holds an airplane's "black box" cockpit voice and data recorders.

One of their more well known products is the frame and case that holds the aircraft's "black box," the device that contains the plane's voice and data recorders and is used by authorities to analyze vital information in the event of a plane crash.

Mech-Tronics makes the L-shaped black box containers -- which are actually bright orange in color -- for Honeywell Aerospace, which assembles the device and sells it to aircraft builders such as Chicago-based Boeing and European company Airbus, DeMuro said.

It's a relationship the two companies have enjoyed for more than 20 years.

Melrose Park-based Mech-Tronics makes the frame and container, left, that holds an airplane's "black box" data and voice recorders, which is assembled and sold by Honeywell Aerospace, right. Although it's called a "black box," the device's color is a high-visibility orange.

"Virtually all types of aircraft have some type of this box," he added.

The quality and precision standards for the devices are extremely rigid, based on both manufacturer and aviation industry requirements. The devices, which measure a maximum 18 inches long by 5 inch wide and 7 inches high, are able to withstand extreme impact, sea depths of 20,000 feet and fire temperatures of 1,100 degrees Celsius for 60 minutes, as well as extreme cold conditions, according to information on Honeywell's website.

"The expectation is perfection," DeMuro said, noting even the quality of the paint can be called into question.

Mech-Tronics' products are all custom build, which includes a half-size replica of the Rosetta Stone.

"We're not likely to ever see these when we get on an airplane. But when they sell an airplane, it's inspected and (the black box is) an expensive piece of equipment and everything has to look good and perfect," he said. "Even a tiny blemish in the paint somewhere could be a cause for a reject."

The devices' dimensional size must also be perfect. Being off by just a hair can mean the difference between an acceptable box and a piece of scrap aluminum.

"In the aircraft industry, they plan things pretty tight and snug, so you can't be off by a few thousandths of an inch because it's not going to fit," he said.

DeMuro estimates they've built more than 20,000 over the term of their contract with Honeywell, which they must rebid on over time.

"We won that business and we've been able to fight to keep it every few years," he added.

The business has grown significantly since DeMuro's uncle started Mech-Tronics as a metal fabrication business in his Chicago home in 1948. The 100-employee company today builds RF waveguide assemblies that companies like Intel use to make computer chips and metal parts used in dental tools. The company has also expanded into aluminum dip brazing (joining metal pieces with molten aluminum), photo chemical etching and nuclear instrumentation.

All of Mech-Tronic's work is custom build, DeMuro said. The customer provides the blueprints, he said, and the company develops the process and builds the product. The range of products can be unusual, such as a half-size replica of the Rosetta Stone that Mech-Tronics built for an exhibition used in museums and educational tours.

"If it's metal, we're going to find a way to make it," DeMuro said.

It's an industry that has heavy competition both locally and globally, but Mech-Tronics' prides itself on a reputation of building quality products that meet the most stringent qualifications. DeMuro notes the company has even won back business that had been previously produced overseas.

"A lot of the things we make can be made by tens of thousands other shops out there and in other countries," he said.

It's competitive. "You have to continue to earn that business. We've achieved the highest accreditation you can for quality and special process standards. It's tough to get there, and it's tough to stay there."


1635 N. 25th Avenue
Melrose Park, Illinois 60160
Web address:
Industry: Manufacturing
Well known product: Container that holds an aircraft's "black box"
Top official: Gene R. DeMuro, president
Number of employees: 100
Annual revenue: $10 million-$15 million
Founded: 1948 

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