Rapid Assembly and Alignment of Electro-Optical Sensor Payloads
Small Business Information
6767 Old Madison Pike, Suite 410, Huntsville, AL, -
AbstractABSTRACT: Optical component fabrication for electro-optical sensor payloads has advanced in leaps and bounds; however, component assembly into a final system has not. Payload designers often must choose between fabricating optical components with extremely tight mechanical tolerances to support snap-together assembly, or using less-tightly-toleranced components that must be painstakingly aligned during final system assembly. Tight-tolerance components cost far more than lower-tolerance components and have a high schedule risk, but leaving adjustment and alignment for assembly runs the risk of driving up assembly costs and increasing delivery timelines. While these approaches can be blended, oftentimes the blending is achieved by feel and guess rather than deterministically using data. Advanced Optical Systems, Inc. (AOS) has developed a deterministic process for designing and aligning separate optical modules to provides snap-together assembly of the final system while eliminating the need for expensive tightly-toleranced materials. Given an optical design, we identify critical interfaces and set appropriate tolerances for manufacture and assembly. We then apply design for manufacturability and assembly techniques to identify how best to sub-divide the system design into separate modules. During manufacture, each separate module undergoes a streamlined individual alignment process. The modules are then assembled into a system using kinematic self-alignment techniques to provide repeatable zero-alignment interfaces among modules. The result is an electro-optical system whose manufacturing and assembly schedule is determined with high reliability and whose assembly costs are kept low. Phase I will demonstrate the process"s feasibility, leading to software and hardware in Phase II to support Air Force needs. BENEFIT: The result of this project is a process for manufacturing precision optical and electro-optical systems. The process will be instituted at AOS as several electro-optical manufacturing cells, using capital investment and financing as necessary. The cells will be available for military products, and at least one cell for commercial products. The military product cells will be capable of assembling classified hardware. Our process will be scalable to full automation. For either high rate component assembly, or for high rate system assembly, the process needs to be compatible with dual use flexible assembly lines. One key will be in partnering with large prime companies that produce the electro-optic systems to which our processes can be applied. Our process is applicable to commercial products as well as military ones. A critical element in mini- or micro-optical systems is an optical telescope which reduces the physical size. However, this is an alignment nightmare the greater the size reduction, the tougher it is to make. Our process would greatly simplify this task. In addition, commercial products are often made in much greater quantities than military ones, allowing us to take advantage of economies of scale.
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