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KTSDI poised for liftoff as area success story

Awarded contract for NASA’s expanding balloon launch program

April 29, 2013
By LARRY SHIELDS - Staff Writer (lshields@salemnews.net) , Salem News

NORTH LIMA - There is a very big axle and brake assembly chained to a work platform at KTSDI, LLC.

The heavily-machined assembly is off of a specialized, container-ship handling lift in the Port of Seattle that loads and unloads the ISO containers that travel the Pacific Ocean.

Ken Timmings, owner of the pristine 12,000 square-foot facility on 6.5-acres just off the Ohio Turnpike on Middletown Road, said the brakes were "going out prematurely."

Article Photos

Ken Timmings stands beside a one of the four 6,000-lbs bogeys assembled at KTSDI, LLC in North Lima for a specialized balloon launch truck commissioned by NASA as it continues its launch program in the post-shuttle era. The custom-made, steer-by-wire bogeys allow the launch truck to carefully track under the helium-filled balloons now used instead of rocket power. The truck maneuvers so prevailing winds do not adversely affect the launch procedure. Timmings owns KTSDI which moved into its North Lima headquarters last December. The company was incorporated in 2007. (Salem News photo by Larry Shields)

He is interested because the assembly occupies floor space in his shop and he is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) representative for the lift company and his small growing company has big responsibilities.

KTSDI is vehicle solutions. That's what the brochure says and it is the authorized representative for Kessler Axles, Mobil Elektroik control by wire systems, Alfred Heyd, a manufacturer of hi-quality steering rods, axle struts wishbones and tie rods and Neumeister Hydaulik, a manufacturer of high-pressure single and double acting cylinders.

Yes, Timmings has spent his time in Germany.

"They described the problem," Timmings said, adding the axle was six months old.

"There was a noise problem ... the brake torque was too high and it was almost ready to break off the axle."

He advised the company, "We'll look at it."

Once delivered to the KTSDI facility, Timmings, a mechanical engineer said, "We dig in, in an engineering sense. The last thing we want is to send the axle back and have it come back."

It's one important way that KTSDI benefits both sides, the OEM and end users.

It's difficult for the manufacturer, Kessler in this case, to diagnose precisely what went wrong. And, Timmings noted, there is very little support staff for these OEMs in North America.

The hydraulic seals on the brakes blew out, Timmings said and explained, "We need to understand what the problem is. That's the value we bring to the OEM and the end user."

There was 35 percent more pressure going through the brake system than needed.

"It was 2,000 psi, it should have been 1,500 psi," Timmings said. "It was more pressure than what it's rated for. The customer has to reduce the pressure."

The problem was traced - the wrong brake pedal was installed.

KTSDI started out at home until Timming's wife Melissa suggested more space outside the residence and the north side of Boardman was home to the company until the Middletown Road property, all self-funded, was acquired last December.

In five years, propelled by a rapid 30-40 percent annual growth rate, KTSDI expanded from one to 12 people, all with good-paying, high-tech jobs.

Customers include Gradall, Caterpillar, Bucyrus, Terex and Kimble in New Philadelphia, Kenworth, Mac Truck and many more.

Timmings said, "We not only sell new, but repair" noting the servicing side called for a "huge investment in cranes."

So the four partner companies "supply us with equipment and we supply OEM's," Timmings said, adding, "so we're working with that and we're involved with engineering" which the company leveraged into specialty vehicles for itself.

Some shale boom business is associated with OEMs and one, Kimble, is tied to wind turbines and Timmings said an "inspection vehicle is built with out sub-components."

But it was last March when KTSDI's specialty vehicle expertise paid off putting it in contact with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which despite the shelving of the space shuttle program, still had to put payloads in the stratosphere.

Timmings said KTSDI "was a awarded a significant contract for NASA's expanding balloon launch program.

He said that since the shuttle was decommissioned NASA has employed large helium balloons to launch payloads of up to 20,000 lbs.

"The balloons are up to 100 times the size of the Goodyear blimp with massive payload and lift capabilities," Timmings explained and, most importantly, the balloons represent up to 1,000 (one thousand) times the savings for similar payloads launched by shuttles.

KTSDI is building one-of-a-kind components/truck, steering, engineering and system support for a very specialized new balloon launch truck.

A balloon loaded with a multi-million dollar telescope built to scan the sky at wavelengths invisible to the human eye crashed in Australia in April 2010 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoNVCqUMW4A) forcing NASA to scramble looking for a fix.

"NASA came to us through other companies in North America," Timmings said. "Other companies couldn't do it and we were referred from another partner company.

"We were invited primarily at the feasibility phase to see if the concept -if we could build the truck and demonstrate the project with helium in restricted supply and heavier payloads, Timmings said, adding the "problem is prevailing winds."

He explained the concept was developed by NASA and there was no truck or vehicle that could do this radius steering alignment, a problem that KTSDI used steer-by-wire to get a grip on.

"They were looking for cost-effective, reliable methodology," Timmings said, adding there are launch areas all over the world.

NASA awarded the KTSDI the contract in August 2012 and Timmings explained that while the helium cost is about $200,000 per launch, and incremental in comparison to cost of the payload, it's a Federal Helium Reserve strategic commodity.

"Helium alone is very limited and costly and there's no way to recover it," he said, adding it takes about three hours to fill a balloon and winds can change quickly in direction and strength.

KTSDI manufactures the four sets of steer-by-wire balloon launch truck bogies that allow the truck to move through a 1,000 to 2,000 foot radius and stay aligned under the balloon up until the launch.

Each bogey weights about three tons and can rotate 210 degrees independently. The tires are from Illinois, bearings are from Wisconsin, hydraulics from Iowa and the thick steel framework is welded up in the Youngstown area.

The entire truck is assembly, weighing as much as an Abram's tank, has the ability counterbalance itself with ballast and assembled at another site.

Timming said the first balloon truck launch test is expected in Hawaii in 2014 when a payload for the Jet Propulsion Lab, associated with a Mars landing, is launched.

The company is involved with regional chamber, the One Stop and Business Resource Network and supports Ohio government participation and promotion of local talent, companies and programs.

Timmings looks around the brightly lit, tile-floored shop.

"We have a vision to grow the company," he says while noting there is 6.5 acres left for development.

 
 

 

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