Moving Forward in Reverse: Six Steps for Reverse-Engineering Out of a Supply-Chain Collapse


Reverse_Engineer.pngThe Situation

A company recently approached Ross Optical with a significant supply-chain concern. The company produces optics-based inspection systems for high-speed manufacturing. Their top-tier product utilizes a complicated lens with multiple precision optical elements and several optical coatings. The company is facing competitive pressure to add this advanced feature to two other product lines. Unfortunately, commercial versions of the required lens are not available from their existing supplier at a rate to match the company's growing demands. All other component vendors that the company has approached have pressured them into settling for an off-the-shelf lens. That solution is unsatisfactory because the alternate lens is not optimized to their existing product and would require significant system redesign to match the expected performance.

The Solution

In a crisis such as this, it is often possible to reverse-engineer the unavailable optical component and develop a custom-designed solution that matches or exceeds the performance of the part that the customer is trying to replace. Our process is as follows:

1. Characterize 

Our engineers and technicians break down the existing optical component to quantify the optical and mechanical features of the internal elements, including curvature, coatings, positions, mounting structures, and optomechanical components.

2. Model

Using measurements of the original optical system, we build full optical and mechanical models to ensure that we have captured all of the critical features.

3. Re-optimize

Based on our expertise in optical and mechanical design, as well as our inside understanding of component cost and availability, we may propose alterations to improve performance, reduce cost, or facilitate assembly.

4. Prototype

After sourcing the parts, we have the facilities and staff to assemble and fully test the newly-designed optical system.

5. Manufacture

Once the customer confirms acceptance of the custom-designed part, we source, manufacture, and ship the full order in the quantity and at the rate the customer requires.

6. Inventory Maintenance

To prevent future supply-chain problems, Ross also offers unique inventory management solutions that include vendor-managed inventory programs at the customer's site, blanket purchase orders, and Kanban/just-in-time shipment.

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It is traumatizing to lose the supplier of a critical optical component, but don't panic. Although precision optical systems can be quite complicated, it is frequently possible to reverse-engineer a solution of equivalent (and sometimes superior) performance. That said, reverse engineering an optical system is time-consuming, and it requires advanced expertise as well as resources for precision metrology, optical and mechanical design, and prototyping. Ross Optical has all of these facilities. Give us a call to discuss with one of our engineers how Ross Optical can help you find the best solution for your supply-chain concerns.