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SBIR-STTR-Success: OptiPro Systems

Company Name:
Post Date:
October 16, 2016
Company Location:
6368 Dean Parkway
Ontario, NY 14519
United States

New age optical ceramics, such as those found in modern airplane wings or within the hull of a helicopter have to be manufactured with the utmost precision. Creating a machine that will produce these high demand parts becomes an art in and of itself, with materials like diamonds being utilized to chisel the most demanding of materials. Upstate New York-based OptiPro Systems has built a company with this goal in mind, and has successfully positioned themselves as the premier name in designing and building equipment for the precision optics industry.

The U.S. government is especially interested in looking at future capabilities to manufacture parts, whether it is for next generation missile domes, or for ballistically protected parts of an airplane. Through the Department of Defense (DOD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, OptiPro has developed a suite of machining systems that address these needs. The company’s Ultrasonic Machining Center, OptiSonic, was developed with the help of the U.S. Navy, and provides high performance ultrasonic milling, grinding, core drilling and lightweighting of optical glasses and ceramics.

“OptiSonic provides diamond grinding of materials in order to conform to all kinds of shapes and exotic optical ceramics,” says Ed Fess, Research and Development Manager at OptiPro Systems. “We knew that Ultrasonic technology existed but we had ideas for developing new and improved capabilities and we needed to develop it here in the U.S. which the Navy readily supported. After seven years of research and development, we have commercialized 4 different machine models with up to 5 axes, which we are selling to customers throughout the world.”

OptiSonic works by utilizing ultrasonic oscillation to promote free cutting of material, greatly reducing the force applied to the tool as well as the workpiece during processing. This reduction in force allows for rapid material removal and faster cycle times as well as reduced tool wear and longer tool life. OptiPro’s IntelliSonic™ software is integrated into the system to maintain cutting efficiency throughout the entire operation.

OptiPro’s UltraForm Finishing machine, also developed under SBIR contracts has found success in both the government and commercial sectors. The system provides a means to finish challenging optical surfaces required for precision components such as aspheres, cylinders and freeforms. NASA currently uses UltraForm Finishing and is applying the technology to manufacture highly reflective mirrors and precision optical surfaces that will be used for advanced space telescopes.

Recently, OptiPro sold a 3-machine cell, including the UltraForm Finishing machine to JML Optical, in Rochester, New York, which will be used to make custom cylinder lenses for high-end commercial and aerospace optics. Other applications for products produced with UltraForm Finishing include medical, defense, surveillance, and consumer products.

In a related SBIR effort, OptiPro’s UltraSurf technology is the company’s answer to measuring precision optical components without touching them. UltraSurf is a high precision 5-axis non-contact metrology system that can accommodate a variety of glasses, ceramics, crystals and metals and provides the needed capability to measure difficult shapes. The company sold an UltraSurf system to one of the US national labs, and one to the Rochester Regional Photonics Association, through a grant from New York State.

OptiPro credits the SBIR program with helping to grow the company not only in terms of revenue, but in job creation as well. Since 2010, fifty employees have been added to the team, and the SBIR program is still used by the founders to foster innovation and growth.

“It is such a capital intense, high risk business we’re in, and we never would have been as successful without the investment of SBIR,” says Mike Bechtold, President at OptiPro. “We have taken the technologies developed from SBIR and now we’re able to handle many of the critical government and industrial optic needs. We have visitors in our office all the time from government and large prime contractors, and they’re just blown away by what we’ve been able to achieve. We like that we have been able to grow as fast as we have while still retaining control over the company.”

Uniquely, OptiPro hosts a bi-annual SBIR Review Meeting in the spring and fall. This meeting of the minds includes over 70 people including government personnel, prime contractors, and other small manufacturers.

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