Good vibrations hit the ice

Washington DC
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Red-ink economics and green ambitions are increasingly driving the aerospace industry to Long Island in search of the targeted technologies created, built and delivered by Cox & Company.Cox is a New York-based provider of temperature control and ice-protection systems.

Wholly owned by its 135 employees under a stock ownership plan, Cox's products include cabin, cockpit, galley and water line heating systems for civil and military aircraft.

The company was founded by Duncan Cox in New York City in 1947 to make heaters. A friend to such aeronautical industry luminaries as Howard Hughes, Leroy Grumman and Igor Sikorsky, Cox eventually placed products on such high-technology applications asthe Apollo lunar landing module and Boeing jet aircraft.

Its product line evolved over time and ice protection is now its fastest-growing segment.

ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY

Cox designs and builds traditional electrothermal systems and now advanced technology electro­magnetic expulsion systems (EMEDS). These vibration-based anti-icing systems are on a small but growing number of business jets, unmanned aircraft, helicopters and military aircraft.

EMEDS and future variations, including thermal-assisted EMEDS (TMEDS), may be the best candidates for commercial aircraft leading-edge ice protection as airframers look to reduce operating costs, emissions and fuel burn by cutting down on the use of engine bleed air.

cox & company
 © Cox & Company

The aim for such systems would be approval for an equipped aircraft to operate continuously in icing conditions.

The Boeing 787 is taking a step forward by using a GKN-built electrothermal slat heating system rather than bleedair for wing leading edge ice protection. But Cox claims TMEDS could use "an order of magnitude" less power than the GKN system. "This is where we believe the future of ice protection lies," says Cox president Steve Landry. "The market is validating that very quickly."

Along with two current and several pending business jet applications, EMEDS is being used on the US Navy's Boeing P-8A Poseidon, for raked wing extension and tail surface ice protection, and broad-area maritime surveillance Northrop Grumman Global Hawk-based unmanned aerial surveillance programmes.

The company is working to expand its products greatly in the commercial aviation arena, in part through a co-operative agreement it has with Saab Aerospace to evaluate EMEDS and TMEDS on Airbus aircraft as part of the manufacturer's Clean Sky efforts.

Cox is looking downthe product line as well as up. Its engineers are developing prototype ice-protection systems geared to the middle - to low-end general aviation market, a sector plagued by icing-related accidents.

Despite the growing workload, Landry intends to preserve Cox's small company feel. Its 8,400m² (90,400ft²) "completely self-contained" facility on Long Island includes the 4,647m²  LeClerc icing research laboratory, complete with two global experts on icing, large-scale autoclaves for composites it builds for heating and ice-protection systems, and environmental test facilities.

Annual revenue is "less than" $50 million, but a wave of new sales starting in the second half of 2010 should raise revenue and employee numbers to 200 or more in the next three to four years, says Landry. Many workers are Long Island natives who are returning after launching their professional careers elsewhere, he adds.

REVENUE GROWTH

Although sales are expected to be "flat" this year and in most of 2010, Landry projects revenue growth of 25% a year for five years starting in 2011, based on programmes in development that will begin production in 2011-13.

Landry intends to keep the company relatively small and steeped heavily in technology rather than production."We wouldn't survive making commodity products, and certainly not on Long Island," he says.

"We are a producer of technology with a tremendous amount of intellectual property and proprietary processes. It's difficult and demanding, but that's our business model."