As photonics technologies continue to evolve, precision remains at the core. No one knows this better than the companies like Aerotech who focus on providing industry with enhanced motion control capabilities. After all precision automation is at the heart of many applications—and the constant push for more performance at lower costs is what drives the overall precision engineering community.Laser Focus World had the opportunity to connect with Brian O’Connor, vice president of marketing at Aerotech. O’Connor oversees global business development, product management, and marketing communications, and over the past two decades with Aerotech, he has held multiple technical and business leadership roles and holds three patents for designs used in Aerotech products.
Laser Focus World: Can you touch on the increasing trend toward high-precision motion control for laser processing, optics, and photonics applications among manufacturers of medical devices, semiconductors, electronics, and data storage?
Brian O’Connor: The precision automation industry has a bright future. Many consumer devices as well as industrial programs require precision motion control. One major trend driving the use of precision motion control is miniaturization. Consumers want smaller, faster, and cheaper. Precision automation enables many key manufacturing and inspection processes to not only decrease the size of these devices but also increase the performance and production throughput, which drives down costs.
Precision motion control enables processes like next-generation semiconductor processing. In turn, our industry then benefits from the improvements in miniaturization and processing power. Next-generation chips enable more powerful motion controllers that continue to push the envelope in terms of performance. It is truly a “chicken or the egg” type of scenario.
Another trend that is driving demand is rising labor costs. More and more companies are looking to automate semi-manual processes to maintain their competitiveness. In most cases, precision automation can easily outpace older manual and semi-manual processes driving not only increased productivity but also higher product yields. Also, robotic automation processes do not get sick or take brakes, driving consistency in capacity utilization.
LFW: Global supply chain issues have impacted many industries at varying levels, sometimes crippling their ability to produce. Are you seeing any improvements?
BO: Aerotech is still dealing with long lead times for components ranging from certain raw materials to semiconductor chips. The industry is still catching up to the pent-up demand from 2020. We may be seeing a slight improvement in lead times as global demand is softening, but nothing that is significantly noteworthy as of yet.
LFW: How is Aerotech responding to the supply chain issues? Are there steps you have embraced to mitigate the disruptions?
BO: We were very proactive from the start of the pandemic. Aerotech devoted significant resources to qualifying new suppliers for critical components in order to diversify our supply chain. We quickly realized that reliable single-source suppliers can become unreliable even with stocking and forecasting programs in place. Aerotech also started to build up strategic inventory to weather future storms and our supply chain team has been working tirelessly to keep materials flowing onto our production floor.
The calendar year 2022 was a phenomenal year for us with high demand for our products. The component shortages coupled with rising prices—material, labor, and logistics—have really forced us to “sharpen our pencil” and innovate in manufacturing and supply chain solutions. This stress on our business did have a silver lining in that it has made us stronger and more equipped to deal with issues like this in the future.