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Air Dynamics finds aerospace, military niche with Desert Wind

Air Dynamics product manager Aaron Lehman monitors a test with the new Desert Wind Blowing Sand and Dust Environmental Simulator. The chamber is the world's first unit that can test the effects of either desert sand or dust in repeatable real time. Photo/Submitted

Air Dynamics Industrial Systems Corp. made its name in industrial vacuum, ventilation and blown-air systems, but the York-based company is finding a new niche in sophisticated machines that simulate sandstorms and ash clouds perfect for testing aerospace and military hardware against Earth’s harshest conditions.
“The real key is applying the technology appropriately, which is a lost art,” said Dan Lehman, Air Dynamics’ president and general manager.

Since the company’s founding in 1991, it’s been making vacuum and pneumatic systems that clean industrial complexes for other manufacturers or help to move fine materials, such as chemicals or grain, from one place to another in processing plants.

That changed in 2007 when Baltimore-based MET Laboratories Inc. approached Air Dynamics about designing an environmental simulator that would more accurately replicate sand storms for testing military hardware, Lehman said. MET tests and certifies electrical and telecommunications equipment for safety, durability and other factors.

In the end, the companies didn’t work together on the project, but it helped Air Dynamics focus its research on building a machine that would allow companies to test equipment in blown dust and sand, Lehman said. The goal also was to meet a strict Department of Defense standard requiring simulators to replicate environmental conditions, not merely imitate them, he said.

By 2010, the company had its first Desert Wind system ready to go, Lehman said. It delivered one of its first machines to testing facilities at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., he said. The company is actively pursuing the aerospace and military testing markets, he said.

“The commercial labs have a need because the military is in the business of fighting wars, not environmental testing,” Lehman said. “But these labs have a presence on bases.”

In February, Air Dynamics sold a Desert Wind machine to Canada’s Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Center, a testing and certification center in Montreal that’s part of Canada’s National Research Council. The center guides applied research for aerospace manufacturers and to a school for training airplane technicians.

The center is beginning to use the Desert Wind machine, but it shows potential for testing aircraft parts or other machinery, said Stephane Carpentier, the center’s director of innovation and development. Desert Wind was one of the only machines he found capable of testing parts against both sand and dust, he said.

Using Desert Wind to blow sand or ash at high velocity and heat helps companies understand if their parts will continue to work in sandstorms or when a jet flies through ash clouds similar to those from Icelandic volcanoes in 2010 that grounded flights between Europe and North America, Carpentier said. If a plane or a helicopter hits ash or sand, its parts have to continue working, he said.

“If it damages the circuits (in the simulator), you’ll see if it still works,” he said.

Air Dynamics also is courting defense and homeland security business in Israel through the Pennsylvania’s Office of International Business Development in the Department of Community and Economic Development, Lehman said.

U.S. military financing assistance to Israel is worth $3 billion, according to the state’s trade analysis. Israel then spends about 75 percent of that buying U.S. military and associated hardware. In 2006, Israel spent $13.9 million with Pennsylvania companies for U.S.-funded military contracts, according to the state.

Companies looking to Israel for sales need to be prepared for the long-haul, said Seth J. Vogelman, the state’s trade director in the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office. The region includes Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Acceptance of U.S. products can take as long as two years and companies must already be working with the U.S. military, he said.

Aside from those and a few other requirements, test equipment has a lot of potential in Israel and other eastern Mediterranean countries, he said.

“Any innovative and useful product for the military and aviation sectors can do well in (Israel),” Vogelman said.

U.S. companies also need to be aware of the realities of competing on the foreign stage, he said. They’re no longer only competing against regional and national companies for contracts.

“Pennsylvania manufacturers need to remember there is a lot of competition from Europe, the Far East and India,” Vogelman said.

Desert Wind can compete, Lehman said. The systems are customizable for a client’s specifications on size and capabilities, and the smaller systems start at just under $1 million, he said.

Even if it takes time to break into the foreign markets, Desert Wind represents a business diversification built on existing expertise that’s capable of capturing new markets domestically, he said.

“Desert wind is the compilation of 20 years of integrating our core technologies,” Lehman said.

Jim T. Ryan

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