, Gloucester, MA

June 11, 2013

Saving fuel, surviving the recession

By Nancy Gaines

---- — In business terms, conventional wisdom holds that finding and capitalizing on a market niche is a key to success.

Gloucester takes the axiom literally. Small companies come here for the market nook: a cottage industry of cerebral think tanks. Gloucester engineering — with lowercase “e” — attracts firms from around the world to a perfect setting for financial growth with an ocean view.

One of those low-profile, high-brain companies, Axiam Inc., has come up with a new way to conserve aircraft fuel, a cost that accounts for 40 percent of the operating budget for a plane. And such costs, which have lately soared, are passed on to the consumer.

Axiam said its new software could save a commercial aircraft as much as $3.5 million a year by creating a more efficient engine core using its patented assembly process.

The savings would average about 7 percent for all aircraft, regardless of size, by reducing consumption while “enhancing quality, reliability, safety and operational excellence,” according to the company.

Axiam holds the patents for the innovative computer-aided construction of the cores of jet engines, which make the rotors spin. So, size aside, “we compete with Pratt & Whitney and GE,” said company chairman, president and CEO Donald Lohin.

Based on math from the minds at MIT, then turned into instruments at Sunrise Laboratories in Auburn, N.H., Axiam’s proprietary system includes the software, manuals, hardware and gauges.

“The parts had been assembled mechanically,” Lohin said. “Our data are much more accurate. The high-precision gauges measure the 20-millionth of an inch. There are 8,000 data points per part.” Those assembly parts are installed at an airline’s engine shop where Axiam trains personnel and provides continuing support service.

With revenue estimated by online industry analysts at $2.5 million, Axiam – which does not disclose sales figures -- was founded 30 years ago by legendary entrepreneurial industrialist Clint Rule and Robert Lee, the current vice president for technical support. It came out of a bankruptcy in 2000, provided precision engine maintenance engineering help for the U.S. Navy during the Iraq War, and, said Lohin, “remained profitable during three industry recessions in the past decade.”

The privately owned company employs a dozen people at its Blackburn Park headquarters. Bob Lee, from Melrose, educated at Northeastern University, provides the engineering know-how.

“Of course, I had an Erector set,” he said. “I also tinkered with clocks.”

Lohin, a professional manager and engineer, was born in Germany, educated at Lehigh University, got an MBA from the University of Virginia after service in the Navy, and came to Axiam after a stints at a number of billion-dollar corporations, including Xerox.

Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines, General Electric, Siemans, Westinghouse, NASA, Boeing, and the Navy have come to rely on the special talents and experience of Axiam’s technology and expertise in high tech mechanical engineering.

Axiam partnered with Flight Sciences International, a California-based designer of commercial aviation fuel conservation programs, on the new process.

“We come up with the ideas for the product and get companies, mostly in New England, to turn them out,” Lohin said. The company has an estimated million dollars in U.S. military aircraft contracts, making it, along with Gorton’s, the city’s largest government contractors.

Nancy Gaines is a Times correspondent and a longtime writer and editor with Boston and national publications.