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Blossoming UAV industry assists microwave firm

Rob Sabo
rsabo@nnbw.biz

Nevada’s nascent unmanned aerial vehicle industry could supercharge the fortunes of Advanced Microwave Products of South Meadows.

AMP assembles microwave transmitters and receivers that transfer video, audio and data from surveillance equipment and drones at a two-story flex industrial building tucked away on a hillside in South Meadows. The 10,000-square-foot facility with unobstructed views of Mount Rose gives AMP a perfect testing ground for new products.

Currently the firm straddles the surveillance and UAV markets, but there’s a push by management to capture more market share producing microwave transmitters and receivers for unmanned aerial drones.

“That’s one of the markets we are looking to break into,” says Matt McEwen, AMP managing partner and executive vice president. “We couldn’t be better positioned here, and we have the capability to support a lot of different platforms and technologies.”

Though Nevada has been approved as a test site for UAVs, the way the Federal Aviation Administration defines the industry could make a huge impact on AMP and similar firms in the area. The key, McEwen says, is getting products onboard a platform that eventually becomes a standard in the UAV industry.

“A lot of our equipment is sitting in prototypes waiting for the skies to be opened up,” McEwen says. “We have sold one to two pieces to in excess of 50 different companies that are all trying to become the next big platform — but their hands are tied with all the restrictions that haven’t been worked through with the FAA and with congress.”

A major challenge, McEwen admits, is getting AMP’s name in front of potential customers, especially the major players jockeying to become the next big producer of unmanned aerial vehicle platforms. The increased traffic through the Reno-Sparks region as UAV testing and development takes off could be the biggest driver of new business for AMP.

Competing against larger firms — many of which already have coveted ISO 9000 and 9001 certifications — is a difficult battle to fight, McEwen admits. The certifications are crucial to ensure that products and parts are fully traceable.

“We are working on it, but we are not there yet,” McEwen says. “It’s in the quality systems that are required as far as tracking and vendor sourcing. We are getting into keeping track of which vendors are in compliance. That is our biggest hurdle, but our customers are willing to work with us knowing that we are making those steps and plan to get those systems in place.”

AMP was founded in 2006 by President Barry Lautzenhiser, who works remotely from his home in Indiana. AMP started out in the surveillance industry, and many of its products are designed for law enforcement entities around the world. A distributor in Toronto ships products internationally for the firm. Clients include domestic and international federal and state-level law enforcement entities.

The company’s business model began changing when it started receiving requests from companies in the UAV sector asking for miniaturized, lighter and more power-efficient devices. Small quantities of microwave componentry are hand-assembled internally by AMP’s production staff, but orders larger than 15 units typically are sent to contract manufacturers for assembly. The company has nine employees and also uses contractors and consultants as needed. AMP hasn’t sought any outside funding in its eight-year history, McEwen says.

AMP is well set up to handle employee and sales growth that could come from the UAV industry — McEwen says the firm’s biggest challenge may be finding qualified employees as the UAV market heats up.

“We are working right now to build our pipeline of potential employees,” McEwen says.