STILLWATER — A Stillwater electronics company has been recognized by Boeing as a top avionics supplier for the fourth time.
“We're the first company to have that honor,” said Brenda Rolls, president of Frontier Electronics Systems Corp., which was among 14 companies and two universities chosen from Boeing's 28,000 suppliers for the 2011 award.
Frontier Electronics was honored for its design and production of an interface that helps manage power for a system that controls solar panels on the International Space Station.
The device, which had to fit in the same small space as the system it replaced, is the third project Frontier Electronics has produced for the space station, Rolls said.
The Stillwater firm earlier manufactured a control panel that spacewalking astronauts used to communicate with crew members inside the space station, and made test equipment that supports computer systems in the station, Rolls said.
“It's pretty sophisticated stuff,” she said.
While the company's latest space station production involved just five devices, Frontier Electronics recently manufactured its 1,000th engine fuel display unit for the U.S. Navy's F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets.
That ability to produce technically sophisticated devices in Stillwater fulfills the wishes of company founders (and Rolls' parents) Ed and Peggy Shreve. Ed Shreve was disappointed with the number of engineering graduates who were trained in Stillwater and took jobs elsewhere.
Many of the company's 120 employees come from Oklahoma universities, including some engineers who left the state and have returned for the quality of life, Rolls said. Among Frontier Electronic's employees are several who have worked there more than a decade, and a couple who have been in Stillwater more than 30 years.
Recently, Frontier Electronics — working with the University of Tulsa — won cash awards from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) to develop lithium ion nano-batteries.
The microscopic power sources could produce “significant improvements” over the current designs, Rolls said. One client has expressed interest in using the tiny batteries in missiles, she said.
Battery technology has not advanced as quickly as other forms of technology, Rolls said. The current work could hold “dramatic potential” for advancements in battery safety and performance, she said.
Once the product is ready for production, Frontier Electronics could launch a second business based in Stillwater that might eventually require a second manufacturing facility.
Connecting to quality
Meanwhile, OCAST officials introduced Frontier Electronics to another client, Oklahoma City-based VADovations Inc., which is developing a miniature blood pump that could benefit from such a small power source.
“They each had something the other needed to develop a viable product,” said Dan Luton, OCAST director of programs.
Frontier Electronics is based in an 86,000-square-foot former hotel in Stillwater.
“If you happen to be an engineer and you're on the west side of the building, you have your own private restroom,” Rolls said.
The company maintains a fairly low profile because the projects it works, while not top secret, often are sensitive, Rolls said.
“It's a great company,” she said. “We have a very good culture — a lot of dedicated, really smart people. You don't win four supplier awards if you only perform well for a short time.”
We have a very good culture — a lot of dedicated, really smart people. You don't win four supplier awards if you only perform well for a short time.”