Acutronic USA aims to make sure its clients are able to hit their targets

May 14, 2013

A target market for Acutronic USA Inc. is companies with products that must hit their targets.

Acutronic, located on Washington's Landing in the North Side, designs and makes testing equipment for navigation units that keep missiles, aircraft and satellites on course.

That includes guidance systems on the Patriot interceptor missiles that were prominent during the 1990-91 Gulf War in Iraq, and probably on drone aircraft produced by Lockheed Martin Corp., which are used covertly in several regions of the world.

"We know they test unmanned aerial vehicles, but we don't necessarily know which ones," said Acutronic CEO Dominique Schinabeck.

Other than Lockheed, customers include defense contractors such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell and Boeing. None of those companies was willing to discuss its business relationship with Acutronic, but they all share a common need.

Acutronic equipment tests guidance systems on nuclear submarines, too, which often have no contact with land for months, yet must be able to stay on course.

"It's always about the navigation of vehicles and any precision-guided unit," Schinabeck said.

Aside from defense and aerospace, Acutronic produces testing equipment for the automotive market and other, select consumer products. Part of the reason for diversifying is to offset spending reductions in military from federal government budget cuts, known as sequestration, a looming challenge for Acutronic.

"We haven't felt the cutbacks in defense yet, but we are watching that closely," said Schinabeck, who has been CEO since 2006.

The company serves markets in North America, Japan, Israel and Australia.

Acutronic equipment, as the company's name implies, precision-tests the accuracy of a gyroscope in a vehicle or other product — the key piece of equipment that measures or maintains the orientation of an object. Acutronic equipment also precision-tests a vehicle's accelerometer, which measures or controls the speed of an object.

The automotive market already uses Acutronic equipment to test a vehicle's air bags. Even so, that market represents a growth opportunity for Acutronic, said CEO Schinabeck. Federal regulators recently adopted rules already common in Europe that require electronic stability control, so that vehicles, especially high-profile SUVs, are less likely to roll over on high-speed curves. Those controls need to be tested with exacting precision.

"Acutronic is very well respected within the industry," said Karen Lightman, executive director of MEMS Industry Group, Squirrel Hill, an international trade group of companies that develop or use micro electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS.

"Their equipment tests very high-sensitivity gyro's (gyroscopes) and very sophisticated applications to make sure products, things like missiles, have zero defects," Lightman said.

Acutronic, which generated revenue of $20 million last year, also serves the agricultural, medical and energy sectors.

"The head of an oil and gas drill bit has to find a precise location," which is a particular challenge with today's horizontal drilling technology, Schinabeck said.

Acutronic is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jung Technologies Holding AG, Switzerland, which serves Europe and other regions outside the subsidiary's turf.

The American unit was founded in 1989 by Acutronic AG, which was founded in 1973 by Pittsburgh native Leo Marxer. When he decided to start a subsidiary, he chose his former city, Schinabeck said.

She came to head the company through a somewhat circuitous route, too. She was born in Boston but bred and educated in Switzerland, where she obtained a master's degree in business administration and later joined the board of Jung Technologies. "I am a U.S. citizen, so it was natural for them to have me come here and head the company," Schinabeck said.


Author: Thomas Olson, Business Writer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review