Just as cars are packed with more electronics year after year, so too are planes, drones and missiles. And all those electronic components produce a lot of heat.
Devising products that prevent overheating of electronics, especially in harsh environments, is the specialty of Parker Hannifin Thermal Management Systems in Liberty Lake.
The cooling technology developed here is used in commercial aviation, but most orders are from military contractors. The Air Force’s Global Hawk and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, the Army’s Black Hawk helicopters, and the Predator drone used by the Air Force and CIA are some of the end products.
A pioneer of spray-liquid cooling, the 24-year-old operation formerly known as SprayCool was acquired by Parker Aerospace in 2010. Much of its work today involves prototypes years ahead of actual production.
“You build them, they test them. Maybe they go overseas and deploy them and test them again, and then the customer comes back” with an order, said Dan Kinney, business development manager. “So it’s a long process. We have lots of development programs in the hopper right now that could turn into really large (production) programs.”
The Liberty Lake team of 35 employees is supplying a liquid-cooled chassis for a prototype of a new “sense and warn” radar to protect Army bases from rocket and mortar attacks.
“This is something that they are interested in implementing soon at those bases to help save lives,” said Richard Hodges, business team leader for Parker.
High-end radar for intelligence-gathering is another growth area for Parker. While tactical machinery is being scaled back at the conclusion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the technology for intelligence systems is changing rapidly and is less susceptible to defense spending cuts, Hodges said.
Missile systems and drone programs also are generating new business for the company.
“All of these military programs, they want to put more electronics on everything,” from fighters to surveillance aircraft to missiles, Kinney said. “All of those things are going to require cooling.”
Parker components also can be found on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, designed with lighter materials to save fuel.
“But also, the 787 is a good example of a commercial aircraft being more electric,” Hodges said. Electric motors and pumps are replacing hydraulic systems, producing more heat and requiring cooling.
The Liberty Lake operation is growing, recruiting primarily from the local labor pool. Right now they’re looking to fill positions for systems, electrical and quality engineers, Kinney said.