“Any company that you contact will promise you heaven, but when it comes to really delivering, then it starts to be a real test for us to evaluate the company: Will they really deliver what they promise?”
– Lesya Blagova, Manager, Photonics Engineering
Prototyping and the pursuit of perfection
An interview with Vishay Precision Group’s Lesya Blagova
Vishay Precision Group Canada ULC (formerly Kelk Corporation) attributes much of its success to its ability to deliver new products and improved functionality as its customers’ needs change. This process – and Macfab’s contributions to their product development program – is described in an interview with KELK’s Lesya Blagova, Manager, Photonics Engineering.
In the example cited here, Lesya and her team were developing a fiber optic velocimeter, using optical sensors rather than conventional electromechanical sensors to measure velocity.
As a product developer, what is it that you look for in the companies you work with?
I am mainly involved in research and development, so it is important to have things done quickly. There are many cases, especially in the prototyping stage, where you need modification – you need to change something, you need to maybe re-machine, to reposition something.
In prototyping, the quantities are very small, it is expensive material, it is elaborate design, so you prototype one, two or three pieces. It’s difficult to find a machine shop willing to work with order quantities of two or three, and then to have it done within one week.
One issue is the very quick return, but then, it might also be a very challenging part to produce – when it’s something that’s hard to machine, that has highly precise tolerances. This includes the materials, then it’s the tooling, which they have to meet from their side – specific tooling for specific materials.
What was it about your fiber optic velocimeter project that illustrates some of these challenges?
We were working on developing a fiber optic velocimeter, in this case working with athermality, athermal design, where the performance of the sensor is not sensitive to the temperature range. Athermality is one of the biggest challenges for designers, especially for optical sensors – for example, opto-mechanical, opto-electronic sensors. It involves some very unique, sometimes very exotic materials. It requires high accuracy, high precision of the machining. And in this particular case, the part itself – the geometrical shape – was very, very challenging. It had three kinds of very fine threads, one of them tapered; it had eight interrupted cuts; it also had very close tolerances.
Macfab was very helpful. They were able to source the materials for us – 35 materials. And some of these, like Monel, are very challenging for machining. It’s not easy to machine because of the granularity of the material, the composition of the alloy, and they did an excellent job for us. We did prototyping, then we had some changes, we changed materials, and they were with us all the way.
This seems like standard procedure in prototyping. What made this unique?
To some extent it is standard, but again, as a developer you want quick changes. We did these parts in Monel, then after we had the results, we switched to Invar. We immediately requested the same part, but made from different material, and Macfab was very quick in doing this.
When you start prototyping, any company that you contact will promise you heaven, but when it comes to really delivering, then it starts to be a real test for us to evaluate the company: Will they really deliver what they promise? And Macfab does deliver. They really are very good at meeting these challenges.