Cranston manufacturer helps subs find their way

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Nuclear submarines in the depths of the oceans half a world away will now know their exact location thanks to technology being manufactured right here in Cranston.

 Last Friday, iXblue Defense Systems, alongside elected leaders and local dignitaries, announced its move to Rhode Island and the completion of its first products manufactured in the state.

 Those products are a batch of Marins M5 fiber-optic gyroscopes – a high-performance inertial navigation system. Built and assembled at the Cranston-based company Federal Electronics located on Stamp Farm Road, the Marins M5 is the first iXblue Defense Systems product to be manufactured in the United States.

“We are an electronics contracts manufacturer, so we basically build other people’s products for them. The industries that we serve are industrial, like semiconductor equipment, medical and, certainly, military,” said Ed Evangelista, Federal Electronics vice president and co-owner. “For the military, we build products that go into guidance systems. Some of the product goes into jets, weapons systems, unmanned underwater vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles and robots.”

Evangelista added that his company has built components for robots that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan that would remotely detonate explosive devices.

“We built those robots and the operating control unit and married them together. So we offer a fairly wide variety of product,” he said.

Federal Electronics began in 1948 as Federal Radio and Television in Providence and was founded by Ed’s father, Romolo Evangelista. The company originally sold and repaired electric appliances and equipment.  Evangelista’s company moved to Cranston in 1983, and the operation runs from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for production. 

Now, Federal Electronics employs approximately 120 people in Cranston. The company also owns a facility in Mexico that employs 200 more. However, no military contract work is done at that location.

“Manufacturing is not dead in Rhode Island. I don’t think that there’s many of us left, but I think that this event today is proof that manufacturing is not dead. I think we see opportunity,” said Evangelista. “The type of business we do, and I hate to say it this way, is the type of business nobody wants. It’s lower volume, it’s higher complexity, it’s the type of product that’s needed by iXblue, basically, and that’s our home, that’s where we live, and that makes a big difference for us.”

iXblue Defense Systems, a French-owned company, is the latest addition to Rhode Island’s defense industry. According to a 2017 study by the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance, more than 30,000 people in the state are employed in the sector, which annually contributes about $3.7 billion to the state’s economy. The Marins M5 is the first of several products the company plans to manufacture in Rhode Island during the next several years. 

In a nutshell, the Marins M5 navigation system used in naval applications.  The device has no sealed cavities or high-voltage discharge and consumes very little power. It is among the most advanced, longest-lasting and reliable inertial navigation systems in the world.

“For example, if you drive into the tunnel going to Logan Airport, you may lose GPS. Our product provides direction, speed and location in that type of environment,” said Mack Barber, president of iXblue Defense Systems. “When you go underwater, you lose GPS, so this helps with location and position. The Navy is also building larger and larger unmanned vehicles, so we’ve sold systems into those underwater vehicles.”

Barber said that he worked very closely with State Representative Stephen Ucci, who represents both Cranston and Johnston, to bring the company’s operations to Rhode Island and to contract with Federal Electronics.

“In order for us to compete in the defense market, we have to manufacture here. I didn’t want to go and build a factory, so I asked Rep. Ucci who he knew, and he knew Ed Evangelista,” said Barber, who began the discussions a little over two years ago. “So we started down the path of manufacturing here, and this relationship is extremely good.”

According to Barber, there are approximately 16 orders for the Marins M5 fiber-optic gyroscope, and discussions are in place to explore what the next product is that the company will manufacture.

“My intent is that we’ll probably manufacture five or six of our products here,” said Barber, who said the market is enormous and Rhode Island is a perfect fit.

 The company also announced plans to move its U.S. headquarters from Natick, Mass. to Lincoln. iXblue will officially move into its new office in early 2019, bringing more than 20 full-time jobs to the state. The firm employs a workforce of 600 people worldwide and conducts its business with over 35 countries.

“iXblue has built its reputation on delivering innovative, state-of-the-art solutions that run on the world’s most advanced technology. We are proud to now have the ability to say we’re manufacturing these products right here in the United States, right here in Rhode Island,” said Barber, who added that during the last two years the company has hired 10 new employees, eight of which came from the Providence area.

Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was excited by the prospects of having the company come to the state.

“I’m pleased to welcome iXblue Defense Systems and its employees to a new headquarters in Lincoln, where they’ll be closer to their manufacturing facilities in Cranston. This announcement is good news for Rhode Island and another sign of the importance of the undersea technology work done in our state and its importance to our Navy and nation,” said Reed.

Governor Gina Raimondo echoed Reed’s sentiments and highlighted the growth of manufacturing in Rhode Island.

“Innovation is at the heart of Rhode Island’s identity, and I’m thrilled that iXblue is choosing Lincoln for its national headquarters,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “iXblue’s commitment to Rhode Island is a testament to the resurgence of manufacturing we’re seeing all around the state.”

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