When he isn't at work, Terry Congdon can be found spending time with his family and their two dogs or fly fishing. Inside the polymer optics manufacturing division of Rochester Precision Optics (RPO), Terry manages the fast-paced and complex plastic optics department. Terry details below the advancements his team is making in the field of polymer optics manufacturing and how they are adapting to the increasing demand for molded plastic optics.
How did you come to join the RPO team?
I joined the company in December 2016, excited to take on the role of Plastics Department Manager at RPO. It's nice to return to a technology I'm so interested in and use the knowledge I acquired at Eastman Kodak. I actually held the position of Advanced Plastic Optics Department Manager when this operation was still within Kodak, before RPO existed. I enjoy the complexity and challenging nature of plastic injection molding technology. Precision plastic optics has a bright future; the high demand we're seeing is an indication of that. At RPO in particular, we’re really pushing the boundaries on plastic optics through new tooling, materials and methods. It’s very exciting.
What are you currently working on?
RPO is experiencing tremendous growth as a company. In particular, the plastics manufacturing group is seeing a significant ramp up in volume. For example, we’re currently molding lenses for eyepiece and objective assemblies for various night vision products, some of which have tripled in volume. With lightweight, low-cost, superior optics and the ability to achieve high volumes with higher cavitation molds, RPO Plastics is well-positioned to please our customers and win new business. These same benefits cross over into the field of consumer technology—where our precision plastic optics have made premium augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets possible for the consumer electronics industry.
We recently received great feedback on our first run of plastic lenses for an agricultural application and an important new customer. It's interesting to see how digitized and tech-savvy the agriculture space has become. This is a newer space for RPO to be working in and it’s exciting to receive such a positive customer response.
As new applications emerge, how is RPO advancing its plastic optics expertise to keep pace?
We are pushing the envelope when it comes to new, more precise mold designs and improved processes that maximize our manufacturing process window. Where appropriate, we are opting for higher cavitation molds to allow us to meet increasing demand with optimal manufacturing efficiency and effective utilization of our resources. Our extensive experience in and knowledge of scientific molding affords us the opportunity to understand and utilize the relationship between mold and process design to our customers' advantage.
In plastics, we concentrate on reducing in-process inventory and increasing automation. RPO has invested in more molding capital with robotic handling that performs automated degating and frees up our manufacturing team to concentrate on process control and quality, increasing our material velocity through the factory. Streamlining the process ensures we stay on schedule to meet customer delivery dates while also allowing us to quickly detect and solve any potential quality concerns as we progress.
How do you prepare your team for these major volume increases?
Continual communication is crucial to effectively implementing any new initiative. I feel like we have a close-knit team with open communication. Without the operators to make the process run, there is no need for me or the rest of the organization. It’s important that everyone is shown respect and that their input is heard as these are the folks doing the value-added work every day. I'm proud of the team we have built in plastics. They are a hardworking, knowledgeable group.
The commitment to growth from the RPO senior management team helps ensure we have what’s needed to meet customer demand. I've been in companies where there’s a lot of red tape, but at RPO, leadership makes things happen quickly in order to get the departments what they need. Substantial investments have been made in both new capital and new personnel to increase capacity and we have an organization committed to driving strategic growth. I work to convey this message of commitment to my team so they know they have the support they need to grow.