Isothermal nails its largest contract for spray-cooled chassis

Oct. 1, 2000
Officials at Isothermal Systems Research recently announced the details of the largest contract in the company's history — a $35 million contract to supply their spray-cooled electronics chassis to all branches of the U.S. military


By John McHale

CLARKSTON, Wash. — Officials at Isothermal Systems Research recently announced the details of the largest contract in the company's history — a $35 million contract to supply their spray-cooled electronics chassis to all branches of the U.S. military.

The first leg of the transaction, supplying Isothermal's devices to the U.S. Marine Corps for the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), was reported in the July 2000 edition of Military & Aerospace Electronics. Other candidates include the U.S. Navy's EA-6B carrier-based aircraft, the U.S. Air Force's F-16 fighter, and the U.S. Army's M1A1 main battle tank.

It is the largest contract award Isothermal has received to date, says Donald Tilton, president of Isothermal. "We have a lot of growing to do in the next year" to meet the manufacturing needs for the contract as well as the company's other business, he adds.

Isothermal already has the manufacturing space with a 35,000 square-foot facility in Clarkston, Wash., but will need to fill it with new hires and equipment, Tilton says. The new contract should not only spur Isothermal on to more success in the military market but also make for fast growth opportunities on the commercial area as well, he adds.

The company was started as a small business innovative research solicitation in 1988 with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft division in Lakehurst, N.J., as the contracting activity, Tilton says.

Details of the company's latest coup — a not-to-exceed $35,000,000 indefinite-delivery/

indefinite-quantity contract — call for Isothermal to provide its liquid-cooled chassis for processors, avionics, and displays. Work will be at Isothermal's headquarters in Clarkston, Wash., and will be finished by August 2005.

Even though the deal is a significant windfall for the company, experts find it difficult to gage pre-cisely how significant it is. Typically,

indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts do not equal the original value upon completion, points out Paul Nisbet, aerospace analyst for JSA Research in Newport, R.I. The government will use the $35 million as a cap for how much they can spend total until 2005, but they may spend much less depending on their needs, he explains.

It is much like being named a preferred supplier — they are the only company supplying the government with their particular product, Nisbet adds.

Isothermal experts use spray cooling to remove heat from VME electronic systems with a liquid chemical spray, rather than with moving air or metal heat sinks. Spray cooling removes heat from boards more than 500 times more efficiently than air cooling, Isothermal officials claim. Conventional air-cooled systems are limited to a power density of about 1-watt per cubic inch, while spray cooling can cool systems running at more than 500 watts per cubic inch.

The company's spray-cool system pumps 3M Corp. Flourinert liquid from a reservoir to atomizers, which spray the fluid directly onto printed circuit boards. The fluid evaporates as it touches hot components on the boards, re-condenses on the walls of the system enclosure, and runs back down into the reservoir. Then the process begins again.

Isothermal officials claim this approach is enabling electronic systems designers to increase power density, reduce vibration, and lighten weight in military and commercial VME systems.

Traditional VME cooling systems use conduction or forced-air techniques, which have certain limitations, such as noise for air-cooling, says Ray Alderman, executive director of the VME International Trade Association in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Liquids are also a better conductor of heat than solids, but getting engineers who are used to working with dry boards to work with wet ones can be a chore, Alderman explains.

Alderman cites what he calls an old engineering mantra — that which does not match previous experience is automatically rejected. Which is why Isothermal has had a tough time convincing people to try it, Alderman continues, but now with this big contract other engineers and companies will see that it does work quite well.

"The technology is still in its infancy in terms of the military," Tilton says. However Isothermal's spray-cooling technology is already being considered for the Army's Crusader future self-propelled howitzer system in addition to the platforms mentioned above, he adds.

For more information on Isothermal's spray-cooled electronic chassis contact Donald Tilton by phone at 509-758-2613, by fax at 509-758-1280, by mail at Isothermal systems Research, 511 Third Street, Clarkston, Was. 99403, or on the World Wide Web at

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