September 03, 2012
Credit: BOB TRUBIA
Anthony L. Velocci, Jr.
Few aerospace companies of any size systematically gauge whether their rate of innovation is sufficient to ensure long-term profitable growth, much less stay ahead of global competition; isolated metrics familiar to all managers are more de rigueur. At Liquid Measurement Systems Inc. (LMS), President George Lamphere happens to believe new contract awards are a pretty good test.
LMS specializes in the design and production of proprietary sensors and electronics that allow fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft to accurately measure the temperature, density and quantity of fuel for airborne and ground vehicles. The company also engineers carbon-composite fuel probes, an alternative to their aluminum counterparts widely used in commercial and military aircraft.
“The fact that we were selected as vendor on two future helicopter programs [the AVX joint multirole aircraft and the Sikorsky S-97 Raider] tells me that our present productivity level on innovation is sufficient,” says Lamphere. “But as Andy Grove, Intel's former CEO, says: 'Only the paranoid survive.'”
Lamphere has good reason to stay laser-focused, if not paranoid, on the task at hand. Success can be elusive, depending on the business climate and a company's financial resources. That LMS, a family-owned operation headquartered in Georgia, Vt., was selected to supply flight-critical components on two future programs is no small achievement; getting a major systems integrator to recognize a small supplier's technology, regardless of how innovative, is one of the biggest challenges such enterprises face daily.
But that does not seem to have been a problem for LMS. The company has been, or currently is, on design teams involved with the interface electronics on the F-16, and provided engineering expertise to many of the major platform builders on the design, manufacture and testing of fuel-quantity indicating systems. That includes upgrades to the fuel-management system for the UH-1, UH-60, AH-1 and CH-47 helicopters.
Lamphere's father, David, who worked on the fuel-management systems for Apollo and other early space programs, started the company 21 years ago. He pioneered the use of carbon-composite fuel probes as an alternate to ones made of aluminum and stainless steel to detect fuel in ground water. Unlike metal, carbon composite will hold up under the corrosive effects of fuel. Such durability makes the probes ideal for aviation, plus they are much lighter. LMS's devices also are designed to collapse and not puncture the fuel bladder in a crash or hard landing.
LMS engineers are especially proud of the probes' reliability. Thousands of the parts have been delivered for use in both commercial and military aircraft, with no reported failures. The idea is to produce not just proprietary precision instruments but components that will outlast the airframe to which they are mounted, thus reducing life-cycle costs.