*Note: Since this interview, Mike has been promoted to Vice President of Operations.
When the chance to join the RPO team came around, Mike Davenport jumped at taking it. A problem solver by nature, Mike knew the challenge-driven mentality of RPO was the right place for him. His interest in optics comes from the complexity of the industry. "Every project involves a lot of theory, a lot of engineering, and a lot of mechanical common sense," he explained.
We spoke to Mike about how he uses his problem-solving skills in his role as Director of Product Engineering to ensure efficiency in RPO's manufacturing engineering.
Why did you choose to work at RPO?
Everyone here has the ability to wear different hats; they're all willing to jump in and take on challenges. We have around 200 people, but it feels like a 20-person company. There is such a sense of community here.
The skill levels and knowledge levels also set RPO apart. We have engineering geniuses, master opticians and assemblers, and all of these experts are willing to teach those skills to others. RPO has been able to take the expert knowledge of their people and utilize it in evolving product flows and processes.
RPO is a very family-oriented and personable company that continues to grow. Our people are very smart and very good at what they do, but at the same time we can come together to have events like a pumpkin carving contest for children.
Where do manufacturing engineers particularly add value to customers?
Manufacturing engineering passes along savings in a variety of ways. Customers will see payoffs in better yields, lower costs, and quicker turnaround with manufacturing engineering. RPO's efficiency and robust capabilities allow us to find these savings whether a job requires production totals of 5 or 105. When there is a lack of quality or costs are too high, it's beneficial to use manufacturing engineers.
What are you working on now?
We are always looking for ways to increase our efficiency. Currently, we are examining manufacturing strategies to increase optical lens and assembly throughput. Once those are determined we apply them to our companywide processes.
We’ve increased our capability in simulated testing in-house to monitor durability. Recently, we had an optical assembly that had to pass weapon firing. We had to make sure nothing moved once it was locked onto the weapon. We routinely test for weapon shock as well as temperature shock. The assembly had to be able to survive varying climate conditions—because materials expand and contract at different rates.
What are the highest priorities in designing for manufacturing?
The goal is to create a product that goes together easily and consistently. We've worked on projects where we had to make changes to the design in order to achieve consistent assemblies.
We start thinking about manufacturability right from the start. From design through high volume production, we consider:
- Ability to test the design
- Material availability
We want to make sure we use the most cost effective but reliable approach. We are optimizing for high volume production, using assemblers versus scientists. Every Rolls Royce is hand assembled, but the Chevy truck is cost effective, reliable, and designed to be produced in the thousands a day.
How can the companies RPO partners with ensure a cost-effective, high performing system?
Sharing your design intent. This is a major piece of the puzzle for us. That information allows us to evaluate specific factors and ultimately create a better design. We can take a different approach that reduces costs and improves optical system performance when you let us know your needs early in the design process.
Unclear intent can result in a design that's overspecified or underspecified, making the desired performance harder to achieve. We can eliminate a lot of troubleshooting later on when there is communication from the start, including drawings and assembly plans if possible.
We’re committed to developing trust between customers and manufacturing engineers. We understand it's their idea and they make the design decisions, but our engineers want the product to succeed as well. All decisions are based on what will provide the best results. We find it beneficial to have customers sit down with the manufacturing engineers from the start to ensure the design is on the right path.
In optical assemblies, what are the most common challenges you see?
In optics, there are a lot of factors to troubleshoot—mainly because we can’t actually see the problem. There is no way to immediately tell if it's centering, a wedge, or some other issue. For instance, if there is a blur it could be due to two lenses being off centered, but it could also be from a number of other issues. Pinpointing the origin of the problem can be difficult.
Because of our engineering expertise at every step of the manufacturing process, we’re strong in this area. We're able to save customers some of the back and forth that happens with troubleshooting questions.
RPO's Discovery Service allows you to utitlize their expert engineering talent for troubleshooting help on your optics project. Learn more about the program.