Optomechanics – Preventing Failure


As an engineer I’m absorbed with understanding the ways that things fail.

It is often said that an engineer’s job is to make things work.  Well, that’s nice.  Tinkerers can do that too.  The fact is that success rarely rewards an engineer while a single failure can nearly ruin him.  What’s really needed from an engineer is to make things work every time.  That’s a little different discipline.

Just ask Ray DeGiorgio, the GM engineer who’s taking the fall for the Chevy Cobalt ignition switch problem; or de Haviland, which nearly aborted the jet age, when a number of it’s Comet model passenger transports very quietly disappeared from the sky, without a trace; or the engineer who messed up the metrology on the Hubbell primary mirror.

So, as an engineer, I study how things fail in order to know how to prevent bad things from happening.

One key to failure prevention is early detection of possible failure modes.  In optical systems, virtually all optical failures result from some defect in the mechanical implementation.  These problems are never corrected by changing the optical prescription.  (Well, almost never:  There was the Hubbell primary mirror fix.)

Early detection requires special tools for the engineer.  To detect optical problems the optics and the mechanics must be coupled by the engineer from the moment of conception.  The results of this early coupling may only be estimates, but they’re essential.  Few early engineering estimates provide elegant eye-candy, and to some people they may not be persuasive.  But they give the engineer a sense of how to guide the design to the desired…, no, to the required destination.  The estimates will be refined and formalized as the design matures and eventually may become deliverable analyses.

The tools the engineer uses must be able to grow with the project from early conceptual estimates to the final NASA, DOD or NTSB reports, a continuous flow of engineering evaluations using the same proven techniques with demonstrable quality within a growing database of design detail as the project progresses.

That’s AEH’s mission and that’s why I study the way things fail. 

And that’s why I’m going to have a terrific Summertime!

How about you?

Al H.

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