Garmin technology enchants AOPA president
AOPA President Craig Fuller spent day three of his General Aviation Leaders tour visiting one of the most vibrant companies in the industry—Garmin. The 10-year-old company pioneered GPS technology not just in aviation, but also in several other markets, including automotive and mobile, outdoors, and marine. While final 2008 numbers are not yet available, the company’s aviation unit generated $256 million in the first three quarters of 2008, up 14 percent over the same period a year earlier. Aviation represents 13 percent of the company’s revenue. Meanwhile, automotive generates 68 percent of revenue, outdoor/fitness 11 percent, and marine 8 percent. Total revenue for the period was $2.45 billion, up 25 percent from the same period in 2007.
According to Gary Kelley, vice president of marketing, Garmin employs 2,500 people at its Olathe, Kan., headquarters and 9,300 people worldwide. Most certified aviation products are manufactured at headquarters; many consumer products are manufactured at the company’s Taiwan facility. The vertically integrated company has zero debt even as it is once again expanding its enormous headquarters complex to create more manufacturing space.
During a tour of the production lines, Fuller witnessed phenomenally fast robotic surface-mount circuit board manufacturing machines. The devices make boards for the certified aviation devices, such as the G1000 and GNS 430/530. Every unit is tested in hot and cold chambers. Every new system created by Garmin as part of its certification process is shaken, heated, tumbled, and vibrated in the building’s HALT (highly accelerated life testing) lab. Next door in the basement, specialists set up and monitor equipment testing in the complex lab that assures the gear can withstand radio frequency and electromagnetic interference as well as high-intensity radiated fields (HIRF).
''As the owner of a Garmin 530 and 430, I am particularly fascinated to see how the systems are built,'' said Fuller. ''I will fly even more confidently now that I have seen how thoroughly the units are tested.''
The Garmin visit also allowed Fuller the opportunity to get a demonstration of the company’s GPSMAP 696 large-screen handheld GPS and the new GDU 370 and GDU 375 panel-mount versions of the display for Experimental aircraft.
At Garmin’s flight test center, located at nearby New Century Airport, Fuller flew a development simulator showing Garmin’s cutting-edge synthetic vision technology. The software ties the flight computer to a terrain and obstacle database to provide the pilot incredibly good situational awareness. When flying a defined path, the system portrays a series of boxes on the primary flight display for the pilot to fly through. Stay inside the boxes and you always arrive safely at the runway end. Terrain and obstacles show up in real-time as the aircraft passes by. The SVT system has been incorporated into the Cirrus Perspective panel and also been adapted by Diamond and other aircraft manufacturers into their G1000 cockpits. Fuller wraps up his Midwest tour Jan. 30 in Duluth, Minn., visiting Cirrus and will see the technology in the Perspective cockpit.
January 30, 2009