The Rochester area optics, photonics and imaging industry is an ecosystem that can serve as a model for the nation, according to a DoD executive responsible for manufacturing and supply chain analysis.
That was the assessment by Adele Ratcliff, Director of the Manufacturing Resiliency & Assurance office and the Industrial Base Analysis & Sustainment Program within the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy. Ratcliff was recently in the Rochester as keynote speaker at the AmeriCOM Symposium, which focused on what it will take to strengthen and advance America’s optics industry in a climate of increased global competition and decreasing government funding through the Small Business Innovation and Research program for optics research and development.
The event was hosted by the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster/New York Photonics on Thursday, September 27th.
AmeriCOM, a not for profit created to solicit OPI research, development and commercialization projects is aligned with a presidential executive order signed by president Trump in July of 2017, which states “a healthy manufacturing and defense industrial base and resilient supply chains are essential to the economic strength and national security of the United States.”
AmeriCOM consortium members are companies that focus on specialty optical materials, precision deterministic manufacturing techniques, innovative designs, optical coatings, high speed metrology and other light-based innovations that directly relate to the capacity, capabilities, and resiliency of the U.S. manufacturing and defense industrial base and supply chains.
More than 75 people attended the symposium, held at Woodcliff Hotel and Spa in Fairport. Attendees included those from International Traffic in Arms Regulations-compliant (ITAR) companies, prime government contractors and representatives from the Department of Defense.
Rochester was an ideal location for the symposium, given its history of, and success in, the areas of optics, photonics and imaging, and particularly within the DoD supply chain, said Tom Battley, RRPC/NY Photonics’ executive director.
The former Center for Optics Manufacturing at the University of Rochester laid the groundwork for AmeriCOM, noted speaker Dan Harris of Navair. The local center was created in the early 1990s to help modernize and automate optics manufacturing for commercial and defense applications. The Center for Optics Manufacturing helped put the Rochester reinforce the region’s relationship with the DoD in manufacturing precision optics and optical systems, with technology developed there being used to create local firms such as OptiPro Systems in Ontario, Wayne County.
In addition to Ratcliff, speakers discussed topics including Rochester’s Center for Optics Manufacturing, the Navair Optics SBIR program and national OPI manufacturing success stories that keep America’s optics manufacturers competitive today, and underpin key programs at the Department of Defense.
Harris, who is responsible for the development and applications of infrared windows and dome materials and technology at the Naval Air Warfare Center in California, spoke of the progression to AmeriCOM from COM. Harris received an achievement award for the work that he has funded in support of the nation’s optical manufacturing base for more than a decade.
Another key discussion included an overview of the only optical systems technology program in the nation, the Optical Systems Technology program at Monroe Community College, and what it will take to produce the technicians that America’s optics manufacturers need today and in the future.
Speaker Alexis Vogt, endowed chair and associate professor of optics at MCC, said some 75 percent of skilled optics technician jobs in Upstate New York go unfilled annually.
To help fill those spots, MCC offers both one year certificate and two-year degree programs, as well as two plus two transfer opportunities.
The symposium kicked off a full day of events for RRPC/NY Photonics.
Other events that day included the organization’s annual golf tournament, a cocktail reception and Rochester’s annual Photonics clambake, attended by more than 200 people. The event raised over $10,000 that will be donated for laboratory equipment at regional high schools teaching dual-credit optics classes with the MCC program. To date, more than $70,000 has been raised and donated at the annual event.