20 Nov 2012
End of 18-month expansion project at large-optics coatings facility in Westford, MA, is in sight.
Materion, the diversified engineering materials supplier, says that it is about to complete a long-term project to upgrade its optical coatings facility in Westford, Massachusetts.
According to the company, the newly expanded Barr Precision Optics & Thin-Film Coatings site will be able to produce and test “extremely large” interference filters and complex optical coatings, thus meeting trends towards larger-size optics in ground-based astronomy and other markets.
A key stage in the project is imminent, with a customized manufacturing system due to arrive in Westford next month, while manufacturing operations using the new kit are slated to start early next year. The facility will then feature a high-vacuum deposition tool, metrology to test the very large coated optics, and a high-precision cleaning station.
A new clean room will eventually support deposition and testing of interference filters on substrates of up to 1.4 meters in diameter, and which feature more than 100 deposited layers.
The parent company, which is headquartered in Ohio, says that the move to larger optics will be carried out in three stages. Initial work will concentrate on extending capability to coat narrow band-pass filters from the present size limit of 60 cm diameter to 75 cm.
“The second phase of process development will focus on precision beam splitters up to 100 cm in diameter,” announced the company in its statement. Finally, it will develop very-high-performance mirrors and anti-reflection coatings for specialized astronomical and space applications in sizes up to 140 cm on the diagonal or in diameter.
The firm added that it will be able to provide these high-performance coatings on any currently utilized substrate, including glasses, ceramics, beryllium, composites and crystal materials.
“The enhanced capability will allow Materion to meet the requirements of the astronomical community for several large ground-based telescopes in development,” it stated. “It will also support very-high-performance space programs, worldwide observatories and space hardware contractors, as well as utilize Materion’s optical-grade beryllium mirror material.”
The expansion at the Westford site is part of a wider corporate strategy to grow revenues in what are seen as high-potential industrial markets – and Materion has targeted optics in particular through a series of acquisitions over the past few years.
As recently as 2006, the company made annual revenues of only around $6 million in the optics sector. But this year that figure is expected to be around $155 million – thanks to the acquisitions of thin-film coatings and component specialists like Technimet in 2008, Barr in 2009 and EIS Optics last year.
The optical components that Materion sells are used in a huge range of applications. Aside from astronomy (Materion’s beryllium provides the primary mirror surface for the James Webb Space Telescope), its products feature in night-vision and camera optics for cars, infrared sensors in fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles, DNA sequencing equipment and solar panels.
The optical parts of the Materion business sit within its “Advanced Material Technologies” segment. According to the company’s most recent financial presentation, that segment accounted for 42% of revenues in the latest financial quarter, equivalent to around $124 million.