Recently, VT Miltope announced the sale of the popular VT Miltope cockpit Ruggedized Printer Product line, which consists of rugged printers for use in commercial and military aircraft sold to aircraft manufacturers, tier one contractors, and directly to airlines around the world, to Astro-Med, Inc. VT Miltope has been an industry leader in cabin printers; as well as, cabin purser station devices, for 24 years and IFExpress thought our readers might like to hear why they sought out and found a buyer to carry the three printers (TP4429, TP4840, and nPrinter) to the next level while still maintaining a continuity of performance, quality and service.

As a seller backgrounder, VT Miltope is engaged in the design, development, manufacture and testing of rugged computer technologies and a family of aviation network products for military, industry and commercial applications and has been for more than 30 years. VT Miltope’s broad range of computers, tablets, handhelds, workstations, wireless products, servers, storage systems and other related products have served defense, government and commercial customers. VP Commercial Products, Bob Guidetti noted, “Astro-Med has acquired a product line that has been an aviation standard for 24 years and the proof is in the thousands of devices that have been sold.”

On the buyer side, Astro-Med was founded in 1971 and has been a world leader in data acquisition systems and ruggedized products for more than forty years. In the aerospace market the company started out with pen recorders and then developed ruggedized thermal recorders in the 1980’s for airborne and military applications. In the 1990’s the company invented full color thermal printing technology for the commercial label printing market. Then in the 2000’s Astro-Med’s thermal printer technology was adapted for use on the flight deck and cabin of commercial, business, and military aircraft.

We wanted to dig a bit deeper so we contacted Tom Carll, Astro-Med’s VP & Worldwide Director of Sales for Ruggedized Products, who told IFExpress that Astro-Med is a leading manufacturer of specialty high tech printing systems and data acquisition products. The products include color label printers and consumables sold under the QuickLabel Systems brand as well as rugged printers for avionics applications and data acquisition recorders sold under the Astro-Med brand. “Further, the fit of the VT Miltope Ruggedized Printer line matched perfectly with our Astro-Med printer line so the acquisition makes sense for us and our customers all over the world – it’s a win-win for both companies and it will increase our footprint in the flight deck.” He went on, “One of our goals was to be sure that there was complete continuity for existing VT Miltope printer customers during the transition, which is why we opted for a ‘cooperative acquisition’ plan in which VT Miltope and Astro-Med transition the manufacturing and service functions over the next 6 months. The printers eventually will be manufactured, sold and serviced in our West Warwick Rhode Island facilities when the transition is complete.”

The transaction closed on January 22, 2014. Astro-Med will fund the approximate $6.7 million cash purchase price with existing cash and borrowings under its credit facility. We note that Astro-Med purchased the assets of the VT Miltope printer product line less facilities and staffing. Here is the interesting part of the story – VT Miltope and Astro-Med entered into a manufacturing services agreement under which VT Miltope will continue to manufacture printers for Astro-Med for a period of time until Astro-Med transitions the manufacturing to its West Warwick, R.I. facility. According to Astro-Med’s CEO, “VT Miltope has been a leading supplier of ruggedized printers for the last fifteen years. The products have been consistently profitable and we expect the line to be accretive to our Test and Measurement product group earnings in the first quarter of ownership,” said Everett V. Pizzuti, CEO of Astro-Med. “The acquisition expands our penetration of the market for avionics printers, especially in the segment related to direct sales to the airlines.”

Since the deal looks like a winner for both companies, we asked about the VT Miltope decision to sell the printer line and a news release we found tells the whole story: “VT Miltope’s aviation market growth area is ruggedized computing and wireless products and services for in-flight entertainment and aircraft support. The divestiture of the airborne printer product line enables VT Miltope to focus our resources on the future core products,” said Julie Briggs, President and CEO of VT Miltope. From the IFExpress perspective, this is one of those deals that makes sense to the IFE industry and the airlines alike – one company purchasing a product line that compliments it’s line of products and strengthens its market connections to another company to use the proceeds of the sale to further strengthen their inroads in another (the cabin, to be exact). Mr. Guidetti told IFExpress, “I can’t say much now but stay tuned for some exciting cabin developments… coming soon!”

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After the retirement of Tom Dickinson, CEO VT Miltope earlier this year, we asked the company about the new President and CEO, Julie Briggs and thought our readers might like to know a little more about the new president and hear her views on VT Miltope’s place in the IFEC industry. From a personal perspective, Julie has a strong background in rugged computer systems and products. Having previously worked for RCA/GE and BAE, her aerospace and defense experience includes program management, marketing, and business development. Prior to becoming CEO, Julie served as VP of Rugged Systems Program Development at VT Miltope for 9 years. Rugged Systems is the largest core business at Miltope. Bob Guidetti, VP Commercial Products told IFExpress that as a result of Julie’s business development background, she has a strong customer oriented focus. “Customers and their needs will drive VT Miltope’s product development and program participation in its core businesses,” he said. To echo the sentiment, Julie told IFExpress: “VT Miltope is focused on providing our customers and end users in the federal and commercial aviation market with rugged, affordable computing and networking equipment that meets the requirements of the intended applications and environments. We do 100 percent environmental stress screening on all of our products prior to shipment to enhance our field reliability. VT Miltope ensures that the value of our systems are enhanced by responsive customer and product support.”

We asked her how she see’s the impact of recent technological advances and the role of VT Miltope in our industry in the near term, and over the next five years: “VT Miltope has been a leading manufacturer of rugged computer, server/mass storage and network equipment solutions for military, industrial, and commercial aviation applications that call for reliable performance under demanding environmental conditions for over 30 years. In my opinion, both markets require products that have been ruggedized to the appropriate industry standards. My team will continue to develop products that are lower in weight and size, use less power, provide the latest technology, are competitively priced, and most importantly offer superior reliability. Watch us grow our capabilities to meet these expectations from our customers in both markets as well as develop improved business processes, systems, and procedures to provide better overall service and support to our customers. After all, support is key to success in the IFE industry!”

IFExpress queried Ms. Briggs about the “secret sauce” that has made VT Miltope’s products so successful and how she sees the product mix evolving: “In general, VT Miltope strives to sustain long term profitability through customer loyalty by meeting or exceeding our customer’s expectations so that those customers return to VT Miltope for future product needs, as noted earlier. More specific to the aviation market, as VT Miltope grows its aviation business, we will need to provide the worldwide services that meet the expectations of the global aviation customer base. We don’t need to organically grow these capabilities, instead we can leverage those capabilities that already exist within the overall ST Engineering family for product support, maintenance, repair, logistics, and in some cases product development. From a product mix point of view, Bob and his team plan to offer aviation customer solutions that include a family of VT Miltope hardware and software network products. This family of products can then be used as building blocks to support aviation systems and subsystems. Based on customer inputs and over the next several years, we will increase our offerings to include integrated solutions in addition to our products so that our customers can minimize the level of integration and test required at the systems level. System integration and testing are the keys here!”

On the technology front, IFExpress asked Ms. Briggs what new connectivity & entertainment products/technologies are on the horizon: “With the growth of wireless IFEC systems, VT Miltope’s wireless products have become widely adopted as the preferred solution for delivering wireless connectivity to passengers and flight crew. VT Miltope’s servers have also been adopted as the platform for running telephony services as well as applications providing Internet and email services to passengers. We plan to continue to support those applications with our current and planned servers, as well as, other enhanced and new products when building the network backbone required to support the future connectivity and entertainment systems. We have some exciting new product technologies that you will hear about in the near future!”

Naturally, this led to the next line of questioning and IFExpress wondered if there were any synergies between the commercial and military businesses? Furthermore, how would the product line be impacted? “VT Miltope’s entire product line leverages commercial off-the-shelf computer and network technologies. For both federal and commercial aviation, these products require ruggedization to industry standards that in many respects are somewhat similar,” noted Ms. Briggs. “So the core technologies of VT Miltope are in those areas that serve both markets. As to product impact, and generally speaking, the functionality of the servers, mass storage units, access points, and printers supporting our federal customers is very similar to the functionality of those products supporting our commercial aviation customers. However, the packaging and the standards are specific to the respective sectors. It would not be difficult to repackage and re-certify our full line of ruggedized computers currently used by federal customers on military aircraft and flight lines – handhelds, tablets, clamshell PC’s, and more—to meet the needs and standards of commercial aviation customers.”

From a technology trend point of view, we pressed for more specifics about trends in connectivity, entertainment and systems. Julie told IFExpress: “The airlines are demanding more reliable, lower weight, lower power, price competitive products that provide the latest future proof technology. By that I mean the processors, RAM, storage capacities, data busses, and I/O must be upgradable or designed initially to support future applications that they may have in 5 to 10 years. Commercial aircraft operators, much the same as military aircraft operators, don’t want to be upgrading hardware every couple of years to support new software applications and new services aloft.”

With all this emphasis on technology, IFExpress asked Julie how the company plans to educate their market on their broad product line and the various applications and system solutions that are available, and she said: “We provide both markets with technical marketing information to articulate how our skill sets translate into reliable, cost effective solutions. Further we leverage our website with examples of systems to better illustrate how our products can be used as the building blocks. We have some new approaches to that challenge and I will have have more to say on that later.”

Lastly, Ms Briggs said to IFExpress: “I look forward to meeting more of our present customers – and future ones too. Inflight entertainment is an exciting industry and VT Miltope is in the business of improving it and helping our customers deliver on their entertainment and communication promises!”