Lytron’s thermal management components and systems have been incorporated into space applications, medical and industrial equipment as well as military and commercial aircraft. Founded sixty years ago and based in Woburn, Massachusetts, the firm owes its longevity to a combination of engineering prowess, a culture of innovation, business savvy, and excellent customer relations.
Lytron’s proprietary thermal solutions fall into the broad categories of cooling systems, heat exchangers, and cold plates.
“We partner with our customers in the engineering and design process,” says Gerry Marino, the company’s program and business development manager for military and aerospace. “Ninety-five percent of the designs are custom, intended for a unique application.” Lytron’s main markets are “medical, military/aerospace, industrial, and semiconductor,” he continues.
A leading product in Lytron’s portfolio is their custom cooling systems. The systems include compressor based chillers, liquid-to-liquid cooling systems, and ambient cooling systems for mission critical applications such as medical imaging and laser, and semiconductor equipment. Within the heat exchanger sector, Lytron designs and manufactures plate-fin heat exchangers, tube-fin heat exchangers, and oil cooler flat tube heat exchangers that can be found in aircraft, medical equipment, industrial lasers, and other demanding applications.
“The principal technology in our cold plate line is our vacuum-brazed cold plates. Our custom cold plates are used to cool all types of electronic equipment in high performance applications, including advanced military electronic jamming equipment, targeting pods, and AESA radar platforms incorporated into fighter jets. [These cold plates] are also used to cool power electronics equipment on commercial airlines,” says Marino.
“Lytron is proud of using our design expertise to optimize the technical solution but also makes significant contributions in manufacturing products that are ‘build-to-print.’ Our engineers incorporate the best design for manufacturability methodologies to balance cost, delivery, and quality of the products,” states Marino.
Lytron operates under a vertically-integrated manufacturing model. The company builds the components that go into its systems and handles machining, welding, assembly, testing, and other manufacturing processes in-house. Lytron has two facilities in Woburn: an 115,000 square foot (10,700 square meter) manufacturing plant and corporate office and a 20,000 square foot (1,860 square meter) world-class service center. The company also runs a 10,000 square foot (930 square meter) manufacturing plant in Changzhou, China.
“We control all our critical processes. Many times with our products, there’s no margin for error. When it’s on a CT scanner, a weapons system or an aircraft, the product has to work,” states Marino.
Vertical integration is complemented by the company’s design process. The process “starts with understanding the customer’s business, understanding what’s important to them and how our product meets their requirements. We have an up-front sales and engineering team that works with the customer to understand those requirements. We bring those requirements in-house, and then we work on the actual project including the design, prototyping, and verification testing. There are critical design reviews with the customer, to make sure we’re doing it right,” says Marino. Prototypes are manufactured, analyzed and tested. The approved design is then transitioned into production.
The company was initially founded in Cambridge, MA in 1958 by a pair of graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The focus at first was on making jet engine turbine blades. Soon, the company began designing and manufacturing bleed valves, an important component for aircraft. Over the years, the company continued to add new products in new markets.
In 1968, the firm moved to its current locale in Woburn. A year later, Lytron received praise for its work on the Apollo Lunar Module, which put humans on the moon for the first time on July 20, 1969. As a sub-contractor, Lytron designed and manufactured scalloped aluminum I-beam extrusions with inner fin, also known as “LM Cold Rails,” to provide cooling as well as structural support to the spacecraft.
In 2005, the firm decided to diversify beyond the medical market, which accounted for half of its business at the time. A year later, Lytron acquired a firm called Lockhart and expanded its Woburn operations.
As Lytron celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year, Marino says diversification and meeting customer requirements are key to the company’s longevity.
“Customer satisfaction, that’s number one. When looking at markets, we try to understand the customer needs and implement processes and procedures to ensure we meet their expectations. As our customer/market requirements evolve, we adapt and stay ahead of those changes,” he states.
Market-affecting changes might involve technological evolution, regulatory requirements, or addressing growing security threats. Lytron is “focused on staying ahead of these changes including meeting sustainability requirements, investing in new technologies and cyber security,” says Marino. Lytron has invested in securing its facility and IT infrastructure to address information security concerns for both military and commercial customers. “We stay abreast of the latest RoHS2/REACH/GDPR developments and will continue to support our customers in their compliance efforts.”
The company continues to expand its workforce to meet increasing global demand. Hiring is done “in a team-based approach. We’re looking for employees that meet the basic technical requirements; then we look for candidates that are entrepreneurial and demonstrate good character. We also look for team players with a commitment to excellence. It’s a balance of having the right skills and the characteristics that align with the culture of our company,” says Marino.
That culture is built on innovation and engineering expertise. Lytron has about sixty engineers on staff and utilizes cutting-edge computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided design (CAD) software for three-dimensional (3D) modeling. “We also have proprietary thermal prediction software so we can model the thermal performance of our products,” notes Marino. “Then we have sophisticated testing capabilities and the experienced technicians that are needed to support the testing capabilities.”
Safety at Lytron’s facilities is a priority and planned in a methodical, thorough manner. “We have formal safety training on everything from handling hazardous waste to evacuation training. We have [specific] safety training for the various manufacturing work centers including welding, machining and vacuum brazing. We have requirements for safety glasses throughout the factory as well as all operators are required to wear steel-toed shoes. We also have an emergency medical response team – volunteer employees are trained in basic first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). We have defibrillators positioned throughout the factory,” says Marino.
Lytron’s Massachusetts manufacturing operations are certified to AS9100 quality management system and also hold numerous certifications for operations covered under military specifications (i.e. vacuum brazing, heat treating, and welding). The AS9100 standard requires that all critical work centers have process maps with result metrics. The work centers track metrics and have continuous improvement plans as standard operating procedures. Any customer complaints are investigated through a formal root cause and corrective action process. In addition, all manufacturing documentation is under strict configuration management. Manufacturing follows the established processes and product is tested per the approved acceptance test procedure,” says Marino.
Through the years Lytron has been involved in several high-profile projects. The company is currently working with Airbus on its A350 wide-body aircraft, providing a heat exchanger – or what Lytron calls a condenser – for supplemental cooling purposes.
“The project started with understanding their requirements, designing a custom solution, and then building the prototypes. Once we passed all the qualification and verification testing, we were able to get FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval. This approval is required to demonstrate the product is ‘flight worthy,’” says Marino. “It’s about a two to three-year process to get on an aircraft like that. We hope we’ll be making that product for twenty-five to thirty years.”
In addition, Lytron is working with numerous defense contractors on the latest military platforms requiring electronics cooling. Customers include Harris, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and others.
Lytron has a focused marketing and promotional strategy. “Our website offers complimentary tools and a large technical reference section to assist customers with product selection, and we have an online store that offers our best-selling standard products. Custom brochures, printed material, and product catalogs are available to customers. Our experienced direct sales force calls on customers, responds to inquiries, or targets customers we’ve identified through our strategy process. We regularly exhibit at [trade] shows. 2019 will be our fifth year exhibiting at the Paris air show in France. We do selective advertising, but it’s not something we aggressively do. We also have formal marketing presentations for each of our segments,” says Marino.
Marino says that one of the biggest challenges facing Lytron at present “is to adapt to the fast changing markets – the thermal requirements, environmental requirements, and regulatory requirements. The real challenge is to stay ahead of these challenges. The large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) we do business with require suppliers that can support and meet these requirements.”
The challenge of these new requirements is unlikely to impede the company’s upwards trajectory or curb Marino’s optimism about the future. “I see us taking the necessary actions to continue to grow with our customers. We are investing in our infrastructure with multiple capital-ex projects each year and exploring technology innovations such as additive manufacture (3D printing). In addition, we evaluate potential partnerships in both industry and academia. Historically, we’ve acquired several businesses and developed industrial partnerships. We focus on organic growth but always [keep an eye out for] technology that complements our core business,” he says.