Probing the future
Aeroprobe Corp. CEO Nanci Hardwick understands why her company has generated complaints at the Blacksburg Industrial Park. Its wind tunnels roar when switched on, and the sound has disturbed other tenants in the same building.
“They’re noisy. We go up to Mach II,” Hardwick said.
This has created some tension, which the company and landlord have addressed with sound barriers. But on the flipside, the racket is a sign of company success – so much that it is leaving the park and building its own facility.
In 2012, the year the company expanded its wind tunnel work, Aeroprobe saw substantial gains in its global business primarily instruments for aerodynamic and hydrodynamic research, Hardwick said. Aeroprobe missed a previously released target for revenue growth of 103 percent in 2012 but did well nonetheless, she said.
In addition, the company has grown its work force to 30 people, up from 27 in September and now is preparing to build a $2.2 million plant in Falling Branch Corporate Park.
The Falling Branch business park, 175 acres with utilities beside Interstate 81, is in demand as a corporate address. Montgomery County has recently welcomed one new tenant with the August arrival of backcountry.com, which built a distribution hub. Inorganic Ventures, an existing tenant, has completed an expansion. Next, Aeroprobe will build a 20,000-square-foot structure in which to consolidate two Blacksburg locations – its satellite calibration facility at the industrial park and its main office at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
Grading started Jan. 10. The new facility is expected to be ready for Aeroprobe in July or August. There, the wind tunnels will have a space of their own that will be near, but protected from, other employee work areas. The new facility will resolve the noise issue at the Blacksburg park when Aeroprobe pulls out.
Hardwick said the plan to move out is the main reason Aeroprobe has been allowed to temporarily operate there.
“We’re building a building because there is no where to go,” Hardwick said.
Aeroprobe combines a software lab, computer hardware team and machining workshop to produce probes for a variety of industries in which speed, and air flow, are important. Motorsports car owners use them to sense wind conditions during racing. Automotive firms use them to study vehicle and vehicle-component aerodynamics.
Aeroprobe’s metal probes – just a few inches long – enable the wind energy sector to evaluate turbines and the aerospace sector to evaluate aircraft. Although customers probe primarily gaseous conditions, the probes work in water as well.
Aeroprobe doesn’t release revenue figures but is forecasting more growth and expects to hire 40 more employees by 2016, Hardwick said.
Hardwick said the most promising new opportunity on the horizon is the drone market. She said most drones fly without the benefit of sensors to gauge aerodynamics conditions. Company sensors scaled down to be small and lightweight could enable drones to fly closer to optional performance and fly in conditions that would otherwise ground them, she said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1661