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Originally published Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Flir can see things in the dark

Recession? What recession? You wouldn't know it from last year's results at Flir, where sales grew 6. 5 percent over 2008 and profit was...

Founded: 1978

Headquarters: Wilsonville, Ore.

Major operations: California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania; Estonia, France, Sweden, United Kingdom

CEO: Earl Lewis

Employees: 2,079

Major products/services: A wide range of products that use infrared technology, including military-targeting systems, security cameras, rifle scopes, homes-inspection devices and night-vision systems for cars.

Special sauce: Flir focuses on developing new high-end uses for infrared imaging, then pushing them down in price and into broader markets.

Recession? What recession? You wouldn't know it from last year's results at Flir, where sales grew 6.5 percent over 2008 and profit was up a healthy 14.6 percent.

Then again, if anyone can ferret out hidden profit opportunities it's probably Flir. The company, which topped last year's ranking, relies on infrared technology. (Infrared, as you recall from high-school physics, is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond visible light.)

Infrared cameras and other imaging systems detect minute temperature differences and can turn them into pictures without relying on external light; that makes them useful for everything from catching drug smugglers to driving in the fog.

Flir's strategy has been to pioneer new applications for infrared, often for the military (government sales account for well over half the company's sales), then pushing unit costs down to broaden the potential market.

Flir also has extended its technology toolbox and product offerings through acquisitions, 11 of them since 2003 and three last year alone. Just last month , Flir spent $180 million to buy Raymarine, a British maker of marine GPS systems — mainly to gain access to more than 1,000 retail outlets for its new hand-held night-vision cameras.

Last year, sales in Flir's government-systems segment were up 15.2 percent, mainly due to higher sales of its very stable platforms for airborne payloads. Commercial vision systems, the division that includes night-vision devices, was up 14.2 percent on broad sales increases across most product lines; but sales in the thermography segment, whose products tend to be costlier, fell 12.8 percent.

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