If he's not working on exciting new optics designs, Blair can usually be found washing dishes or taste testing new recipes at his husband's restaurant, Relish, in Rochester's South Wedge. At RPO, Blair oversees an elite group of optical design engineers and develops strategic optics programs for customers. Here he shares more about his expertise and the in-house dynamic that makes RPO an ideal precision optics partner.
How has your role evolved since you first joined the RPO team?
I originally joined RPO when they were still using ASE Optics as a separate arm of the company. I had been consulting prior to coming on board but was looking for collaboration and interaction with manufacturing. I wanted to join a team that was more than strictly design, and RPO's structure proved a perfect fit.
A couple of years ago, I moved from my role on the design team to managing the optical engineering group. Since making this move, I've had to learn to balance the technical work as well as team development. It's been helpful for development and growth, personally and professionally.
What areas of development are you and your team working on currently?
To meet the growing demands in optics, we are expanding design capabilities into more complex multi-wave systems. The increase in commercial and consumer needs is impacting a lot of the work RPO is doing right now. As we have moved up the capabilities curve on production, we have been developing more system-integrated optics, rather than just lenses and barrels. Geospatial lenses and multispectral lenses are also an area of development for us right now.
Customer requests used to drive design development, but the past year we have been strategic on company vision, our progression forward and being ready as the industry changes. Being more proactive than reactive is important in an industry as fast-moving as precision optics.
How does the design engineering team operate in conjunction with RPO's program management?
From bid and quote to design and production, our teams work hand-in-hand. The design process tends to lead to more in-depth program aspects. In optical prototyping and production, that is when we serve the biggest need—answering customer questions about how the product is going to effectively operate when completed. There are a lot of "what ifs" and "can we change this?" Our department helps the customer work through the options that are going to provide them with the best final product.
What do you like most about RPO's in-house relationship between design and production?
Creating optical designs on paper is fun, but seeing it through to a physical product is far more exciting. There are not many companies who invest in engineering as much as they invest in the manufacturing capabilities, especially for a company this size with 20+ engineers. At RPO, each day is like living in a production facility with design experts.
Working in such an integrated environment, I have learned more about designing whole systems, which ultimately helps the entire design and manufacturing processes. Our teams can work together to make the production process simpler. There is no better way to ensure that designs are easy to create and have the right tolerances than sitting fifty feet away from the guys who are producing the product.
What are some current projects you're working on?
We have ramped up quite a bit in the medical space, and we are stretching our capabilities in high-end, sophisticated designs. Geospatial lenses are in high demand for a satellite imaging applications. Companies are looking for more detailed imaging with higher resolution and near IR capabilities in these applications where complex optics are essential.
RPO is also doing serious work in "mini" optics. The size of these optics puts them in the gray area between small and micro optics, posing tolerance challenges. Machining optics that small is more difficult, as there are not a lot of great techniques for fabrication. We are exploring different methods of design to determine which approach will work best.
Have an engineering problem? Want advice on optics integration, assembly design, or manufacturability? Consider our Discovery Service.