Phoenix to build neutron imaging facility

Phoenix LLC, formerly Phoenix Nuclear Labs, has announced plans to build a 10,000-square-foot neutron-imaging center in Fitchburg that will open in mid-2019. It will be the first nonreactor facility offering commercial neutron imaging services.

In addition to the neutron-imaging center, to be located at Hwy. 14 and Lacy Road, the company will build a new 50,000-square-foot corporate headquarters on the same site. Slated for occupancy in 2020, the headquarters will provide the growing company with increased office and manufacturing space.

The Monona-based Phoenix, which makes neutron and proton generators used in the health, defense, and energy fields, will break ground in October and has already begun accepting customer orders.

Neutron radiography is a nondestructive testing methodology for showing highly detailed information about the internal structure of an object. For many components, neutrons reveal defects that would be completely invisible to traditional X-rays. The new center will be designed to mitigate the risks, complications, and cost of using a nuclear reactor and will generate high-quality 2D and 3D neutron images for clients in several industries, most prominently aerospace and defense.

Evan Sengbusch, president of Phoenix, says that by investing in a new facility, the company will be able to tap into new markets that, due to cost, were previously inaccessible. “It’s significant because there are only a few reactors left that are able to serve this market," he explains. "Their future, in terms of their ability to operate, is very much in question, either because of political reasons or because they are aging reactors, or they are tied to universities, or a whole host of reasons."

The ability to access a much broader range of customers is an important justification for the new facility because in the past, Phoenix has been focused on manufacturing complete systems, and there is a high barrier of entry for a customer that would face a very expensive investment in a piece of hardware on their own site. Having a lower-cost way to make neutron imaging available to a broader range of customers is vital from a business development standpoint.

"This is an absolutely critical service for a number of aerospace components that need neutron inspection in order to be safely deployed," Sengbusch notes, "and so the ability to bring online a new facility that has a very certain and reliable future to serve this industry, and doesn’t have some of the risks and costs associated with aging reactors, is important.”



Future consolidation

The first building, he adds, should be thought of as a a stand-alone imaging services business. The reason it's coming online sooner than the headquarters building is Phoenix executives believe there is a near-term market demand for neutron imaging and getting to market quickly is important to capture that demand.

The company has partnered with Krupp General Contractors and the city of Fitchburg to build the neutron imaging services facility that will provide neutron activation analysis, radiation effects testing, and even standard X-ray imaging.

Upon completion of the headquarters and manufacturing facility in 2020, Sengbusch says Phoenix will be able to consolidate all of its operations at the Fitchburg location.

Another reason for the expansion is the company's growing headcount, which now stands at 91 full- and part-time employees. “We certainly are very close to capacity at our current to facilities [including Monona]," Sengbusch notes. "There has been a lot of hiring over the past year, and certainly part of the desire of this new facility, both the initial first building and then the subsequent headquarters, is driven by the fact we do anticipate continued growth in headcount over the next year. 

"We need to look ahead to a larger facility just to accommodate space, not only for people but for manufacturing, as well.”

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