ELKHART — Elkhart’s AE Techron, a surprisingly high-tech business in a low-key location, is the latest entry in the “Hidden Gems” series on businesses in Elkhart County with global reach but little local fanfare.
The company does specialized, low-volume niche engineering work that’s in small enough quantities it’s resistant to recessions and to competition from high-volume companies here and in, for instance, China.
WHY THEY’RE HERE
The company spun out of other companies like CTS, Crown and Miles. Larry Shank, president, was laid off from CTS, so instead of moving from the area, he bought the division from Crown.
WHAT THEY DO
“We make amplifiers. That’s our heritage. They happen to be more powerful, more robust than a normal audio amplifier.” Home stereos are about 100 watts; they have a customer who strung together a dozen 15,000-watt amps to simulate lightning strikes on airplane electronics.
They made one that can run up to 90,000 watts.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU KNEW
Though their nondescript building sits in a residential Elkhart neighborhood, you’ve probably used items AE Techron helped test.
“So much of the car or so much of the airplane is dependent on electronics,” and AE Techron’s amplifiers are used for safety testing. “We’re written into the Ford spec, we’re in the process of getting written into Chrysler that if you’re going to make electronics for any of these vehicles, we’re the default aviation spec, we’re getting written into a telecommunication spec.”
WHERE THEY REACH
AE Techron has a global reach and has an international staff in its Elkhart location. “Thirty percent of our products leave the country,” Shank said.
There are plenty of companies making amplifiers, but AE Techron has carved a niche in creating specialized amps. “We do amplifiers and we do them for difficult situations or hard situations or dangerous,” Shank said. “We make them for all kinds of really, really crazy places.” They saw 20 percent growth last year and 27 percent growth through the first nine months of 2013, Shank said.
NASA ordered amplifiers from AE Techron to drive motors that aim telescopes at two observatories in Hawaii.
They’re used in nano-particle imaging, table-top MRIs for universities and MRI machines for horse knees.
They’re used in power plants and in the power-simulation industry, which aims to keep catastrophic power-grid failures from happening.
“They’re using us in San Diego in experiments for a fusion reactor,” Shank said.
AE Techron made an amplifier used in airborne weapons programs.
In two weeks, we’ll profile a company that started here with the wind-generated electricity craze of more than a century ago. Today they may have something under your hood or in your pocket.