A History of Lytron: 50 Years of Engineering & Manufacturing Excellence
Founder Ernest Neumann
Founder Ferdinand Lustwerk in 1971
Bleed valve, of which there are two on each GE J-85 engine
"Inner fin" inside of aluminum tubes
Liquid-to-air heat exchanger known
as the "donut cartridge cooler"
Heat exchanger tube and fin expander
Tube bending machine
Alpha United brochure
Lytron catalog 1991
Lytron catalog 1994
Lytron catalog 1996
Lytron catalog 2004
Lytron catalog 2008
Lytron facility in 2004,
prior to expansion and renovation
Lytron facility in 2006,
after expansion and renovation
Lytron, designer and manufacturer of high end cooling components and systems, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008. Lytron was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1958 by two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduates, Ernest Neumann and Ferdinand Lustwerk. Prior to founding Lytron, Neumann was a professor at MIT and Lustwerk was an assistant in the engineering laboratory.
Lytron was originally named Tyron, and started off making turbine blades for jet engines. In 1960, Neumann sold the turbine blade expertise to a Pennsylvania company and renamed the company Lytron. Neumann then began to look for other engineering projects for Lytron to pursue. On a walk through at GE Aviation in Lynn, Massachusetts, Neumann and Lustwerk learned about a problem GE was having with their J85 engines’ bleed valves. The bleed valves’ mechanical components had a tendency to stick, causing significant concern since the J85 engine was used on military and commercial airplanes. Over a weekend, Neumann, Lustwerk, and another Lytron engineer, Thomas Flint, took the initiative to engineer a new bleed valve design. Their design was far superior to the existing one. They presented it to the engineers at GE and it wasn’t long before Lytron started taking orders for its bleed valves, making GE one of Lytron’s first customers. Today, Lytron continues to supply bleed valves to the U.S. military and commercial users.
That same year, Lytron also acquired a division of Dunham-Bush of Hartford, Connecticut. The division Lytron acquired designed and manufactured aluminum tube-fin heat exchangers for aircraft, launching Lytron into the heat exchanger business. The heat exchanger tubes contained inner fin to optimize thermal performance, and were dip brazed for strength. In addition to acquiring technology and some manufacturing equipment, Lytron also acquired two new employees: Joseph Brown and Edwin Carell. Brown was a welding technician who worked for Lytron until 2002. Carell, who worked for Lytron until 1995, was a sales engineer.
In addition to bringing heat exchanger sales and engineering experience to Lytron, Carell also brought with him a significant sales order from IBM. The order was for the design and manufacture of a system for heating and cooling oil in order to maintain a computer memory temperature of 96°F. The system included a heat exchanger, a heater, a YMCA shower valve, and more. With this job, Lytron began its long history of electronics cooling and cooling system design.
In 1963, just three years after its entry into the heat exchanger market, Lytron started manufacturing cold plates too. One of its first cold plates was a copper cold plate for Raytheon’s U.S. HAWK Air Defense System. Some of Lytron’s other early customers included Atlantic Research Corporation (now part of American Pacific Corporation), Westinghouse, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, Dupont, Varian, and Ingersoll-Rand. Lytron’s products provided cooling for re-breathing apparatus for submarines, nuclear reactors, power plant compressors, and many other applications.
In the mid and late 1960’s, Lytron underwent a great deal of change. In 1965, Lytron decided to move from Cambridge to Pine St. in Woburn, Massachusetts, where it would have more room to grow. Shortly after, Neumann passed away unexpectedly and O.P. Young served briefly as president.
In 1966, Jack Kellogg became president and Henry Milo became executive vice president and treasurer soon after. Prior to working for Lytron, Kellogg had been affiliated with Nutmeg Steel Castings and Milo had worked for the Foxboro Company. At that time, Lytron had approximately 15 employees and was running three factory shifts to meet bleed valve and heat exchanger production demands.
In 1968, Lytron moved to Dragon Court in Woburn, increasing its space from 20,000 ft2 to 58,000 ft2. Lytron also began development of donut shaped intercoolers for use on Ingersoll-Rand’s compressors in coal power plants. The “donut cartridge coolers,” which weighed between 150 lbs. (68 kg) and 1200 lbs (544 kg), were liquid-to-air heat exchangers that had copper tubes with inner fin welded into solid brass plate tube sheets. Lytron also offered the coolers in stainless steel and cupro-nickel. The coolers were manufactured for more than 10 years.
Perhaps one of Lytron’s proudest days was July 20, 1969 when the U.S. landed on the Moon. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, now part of Northrop Grumman, was the chief contractor on the Apollo Lunar Module and Lytron was a subcontractor. Lytron designed and manufactured scalloped aluminum I-beam extrusions with inner fin, also known as “LM Cold Rails,” to provide cooling as well as structural support to the spacecraft. Grumman Aircraft sent a letter to Lytron’s employees a few months later, thanking them for their cooperation and efficiency as well as for meeting tight customer delivery requirements. Lytron’s employees will never forget the important role they played in this momentous event in history.
In 1973, Lytron took another big step internally when it started using an IBM computer (System 3 Model 6 computer) to track payroll, invoicing, accounts payable and receivable, stock, work in progress, purchase orders, backlog, and more. Lytron was far enough ahead of its time that IBM asked Milo to speak at a seminar about the installation and Lytron’s unique uses of the system. Today, Lytron continues to be on the cutting edge in using technology to increase efficiency and quality in its operations.
Another one of Lytron’s most memorable days came about 8 years later on Friday, April 8th, 1977. Lytron was closed in observance of the Good Friday holiday when several employees received disturbing calls at home that there was a fire in the factory. Although no one knows for certain how the fire was started, it was likely caused by corroded electrical wires near a salt bath that was used for dip brazing. Approximately 25% of the building was completely destroyed. Although it was not one of Lytron’s proudest days, the company learned some valuable lessons in safety. In addition, the experience showed the dedication of Lytron’s employees as they pulled together to maintain operations. The factory remained in continuous operation and was able to meet all of its customers’ shipment deadlines.
In 1979, Lytron purchased Davidson Fan of Watertown, Massachusetts from Nutmeg Steel Castings. Prior to the purchase, Davidson Fan had been a subcontractor for Lytron. Davidson Fan continued to operate in Watertown.
In 1982, after more than 15 years with Kellogg and Milo leading the company, Lytron appointed a new president, Dick Cole. At that time, Lytron was an $8.5 million company and was still focused primarily on tube-fin heat exchangers and bleed valves. With the Cold War, there was significant U.S. defense spending and the military market comprised over half of Lytron’s business. The other half of Lytron’s business was primarily in the electronics and medical markets.
In 1987, Lytron acquired Alpha United of El Segundo, California. With this acquisition came vacuum brazing ovens and other capital equipment, as well as plate-fin heat exchanger and vacuum brazed cold plate business.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and soon after there were cutbacks in U.S. defense spending, prompting Lytron to move more into the commercial market. Over the ensuing 10 years, Lytron’s military and aerospace business dropped from 65% of revenues to just 30%.
In 1990, Charles Carswell became president. Carswell had been with Lytron since 1987 as the vice president of sales. With his presidency came a new culture for Lytron’s 70 employees. Carswell’s philosophy was to invest time and money on research and development and to take risks on new markets and new technologies. He also encouraged employees to forget about failures and move on with successes, promoting a culture of independent thinkers who were empowered to make decisions. A new department called “Manufacturing Engineering” was created in order to bridge the gap between design engineering and the factory. The result was a company more engineering driven than most manufacturing companies, and more focused on providing high-end, custom solutions.
In 1992, Lytron moved the Alpha United business to its headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts, consolidating all of its operations under one roof. Lytron believes that by keeping all of its operations in one facility, it has realized significant benefits over the years. It has allowed Lytron to operate with a lower overhead as well as provided close contact of its engineering and manufacturing staff to ensure efficiency and foster communication.
In 1993, Lytron started strategic planning for the upcoming year and has since then made strategic planning an annual event. In the early 1990’s, Lytron also significantly broadened its technology offerings. At the request of IBM, Lytron produced the first Press-Lock™ tubed cold plates, which had a much better thermal performance than competitive cold plates as well as more reliable performance.
Through its strategic planning process, Lytron recognized another product opportunity. Lytron had been supplying heat exchanger components to laser companies for their cooling systems, but realized that it was well positioned to provide the entire cooling system. In 1994, Lytron designed a flat tube heat exchanger, also known as an oil cooler, and a Modular Cooling System (MCS), also known as an ambient cooling system. An MCS consists of a heat exchanger integrated with a fan, pump, and tank in a durable metal chassis. The first MCS’s, which were sold to GE for use in its MRI machines, contained the flat tube heat exchanger technology. Lytron sold over 1,000 MCS’s to GE alone. Shortly after designing the MCS, Lytron acquired Waterworks of Burlington, Massachusetts. This marked the company’s entry into the recirculating chiller business.
By the mid 90’s, Lytron had diversified not only its product lines, but also its markets. Approximately 30% of its business was in medical, 30% in military and aerospace, and 30% in industrial. In 1996, Lytron adopted the tagline “Total Thermal Solutions.” This tagline reflected Lytron’s newly broadened product range, which included cold plates, heat exchangers, and cooling systems. A customer could now purchase all of the components in its liquid cooling loop from Lytron. The company also started selling its standard products through McMaster-Carr, a large industrial distributor.
Lytron’s commitment to investing in the future continued in the late 90’s. In 1998, Lytron purchased an “A Fin” die for manufacturing tube-fin geometries that were more efficient for water-cooling applications. The company also launched its website, www.Lytron.com.
In 1999, Lytron completely redesigned its recirculating chiller. This effort was marketing driven, taking into account all of the features and benefits requested by customers (and the complaints Lytron heard about it’s competitors’ products) as well as the need for an attractive chiller for use within hospitals, laboratories, and other high end commercial locations. The award winning recirculating chiller redesign also took into account the manufacturability of the chiller, and came with a warranty that exceeded that of its competitors. The new recirculating chiller was named the “Kodiak.”
In 1999, Lytron also brought on Russell Associates as a U.S. and Canadian manufacturers’ representative for the military and aerospace markets. This allowed Lytron to continue diversifying its markets. This strategy of market diversification worked well for Lytron. For example, in 2001, 20% of Lytron’s business came from the semiconductor market. Despite the crash of this market, Lytron made up the 20% loss in semiconductor business that year with additional sales into the military market. That same year, Lytron undertook a factory reorganization too. The factory reorganization made production more efficient, helping to make Lytron more profitable and helping to fuel Lytron’s growth.
In fact, to meet the needs of its growing cooling system business, Lytron started a service department in 2002. Today, Lytron offers 24 hour / 7 day per week customer support and has service depots around the world. Lytron also offers on-site service and training.
In 2003, Lytron started distributing its standard products through MSC Industrial Supply. Today, MSC is Lytron’s largest distributor of standard products. Lytron has numerous distribution channels around the world, ensuring that it’s easy for customers to find the products they need when they need them.
With consistent year-over-year growth since the mid 1990’s, Lytron needed room to expand. The company’s owners believed that Lytron had a strategic advantage in its current location due to the talent and loyalty of its existing employees, as well as its proximity to Boston and some of the world’s best engineering schools. So Lytron purchased an adjacent building and began construction and remodeling in 2004.
In 2005, Lytron realized that it again needed to diversify its market in order to ensure the company’s stability. At that time, 50% of Lytron’s business was in the medical market. To help diversify as well as grow its business, Lytron acquired Lockhart in 2006. Just a few months later, Lytron moved into its newly renovated and expanded 115,000 ft2 (10,683 m2) facility. The company also started moving equipment from the Paramount, California Lockhart factory to its Woburn, Massachusetts factory. The acquisition of Lockhart brought with it new capital equipment as well as new military business.
Today, Lytron designs and manufactures cold plates, cooling systems, and heat exchangers for OEM’s and end-users around the world. Lytron remains committed to serving its customers with high quality, Total Thermal Solutions™. In 2008, Lytron celebrated its 50th anniversary as well as its 14th consecutive year of growth. Lytron serves numerous markets, including medical, military and aerospace, laser, power electronics, datacom equipment, semiconductor, and more. The company continues to invest in new technology and R&D, new capital equipment, and its employees. Lytron, an industry leader known for both its engineering and manufacturing excellence, is poised for another 50 years of growth and success.
Special thanks to the employees and retirees of Lytron who shared their facts, figures, and stories:
Edwin Carell, Retiree, former Sales Engineer (employed 1960-1995)
Charles Carswell, Chairman (employed 1987-present)
Charles Gerbutavich, Sr. Process Engineer / Manufacturing Engineer (employed 1967-present)
Richard Goldman, Retiree, Former VP of Engineering (employed 1988-2009)
Joseph O’Connor, Expanding Cell Operator (employed 1966-present)
Philip Nunn, Manufacturing Technician, (employed 1963-present)
Timothy Sheehan, Factory Manager (employed 1986-present)