Principal Mechanical Engineer
Expert in RF and electromechanical systems mechanical design and analysis for aerospace, defence and space applications after progressing through challenging roles of increasing responsibility over 20 years at, variously, BAE Systems, Honeywell, Raytheon Systems, Selex, United Technologies and Ultra Electronics.
BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, University of Paisley
MSc Advanced Mechanical Engineering, University of Strathclyde
After 20+ years at some of the biggest names in aerospace and defence, Lead Mechanical Engineer Gordon Riach wanted a new challenge from new technology.
“I’m finding Hanwha Phasor has an abundance of intelligent life,” he asserts, “and we’re just the right size for it to flourish. Good ideas get implemented fast – you can make your mark on next-gen satcom.”
Gordon Riach took his first steps in engineering in time-honoured fashion: taking apart his sister’s radio … and failing to put it back together again. It was the beginning of a lifetime’s love affair with radio frequency (RF) and electro-mechanical hardware.
Fast forward a few decades and he finds himself at Hanwha Phasor. “I was very impressed by what I read about the AESA before joining. I did some calculations before my interview but couldn’t see how it all added up. When they showed me the detail, it was ‘well, hat’s off to you’ .”
Antenna, radome and the entire RF chain are condensed in a seven-centimetre-deep package, the lowest profile of any solid-state satcom antenna for communications on the move.
For Riach, designing the isothermal system is a huge and exciting challenge. As the heat flux density is so high, liquid cooling is the only solution, especially when operating temperatures on land could be as high as 50°C.
“The amount of RF energy input we transmit is a small proportion of input power. The rest we have to dissipate as heat. When I joined, the hand-built prototype took uniform dissipation from a small contact region and transferred it to a coolant. This wasn’t viable for a high-volume product.”
With more than 20 years’ experience of taking complex, innovative concepts to market in aerospace and defence, designing a product for commercial application is precisely the kind of challenge Riach relishes.
Before joining Hanwha Phasor, he led the mechanical design for the Duplexer on NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite. With a 10x leap in resolution, it enables accurate measurement of the sea surface height to one millimetre, furthering the SWOT mission: helping scientists better understand heat and carbon flow in our oceans to spur sustainability in maritime industries, coast operations and fisheries. “Space on a satellite is precious so low form factor is crucial” says Riach. “The challenge was not height as with our AESA but the footprint. The challenge was about withstanding the harsh launch environment while meeting the operating performance requirements in a compact and mass-efficient design.”
But how will the AESA stand up to vibration and the other stresses of demanding operational environments?
“I started my career in structural and thermal stress analysis and testing for BAE Systems and it’s remained a core discipline for me ever since.”
Although the first release of Hanwha Phasor’s AESA will be for land and maritime applications, inflight connectivity is the big prize and with that comes extremely demanding technology challenges. The current ground-based radome material has excellent lightning protection but its use is limited at high temperatures, so we are exploring alternatives. Beyond design and test, there are the rigours of aviation certification.
“We have expertise from so many different fields here,” explains Riach. Crucially, because we’re still small and what we’re doing is new, there’s huge excitement. That’s a very powerful driver for collaboration.”
“Whether we’re grappling with certification, tackling a highly complex theoretical issue or just chewing on a minor IT problem, we have the right people to help – and help fast. Coming from a huge, process-driven company, that’s very refreshing. Organisational agility is essential for innovation, especially when you’re aiming to launch something as ambitious as Hanwha Phasor’s AESA.”
He adds: “You have to stay flexible enough for informal collaboration and focused enough to agree strategy and then deliver on it.”
Like many other high-calibre engineers who’ve joined recently, Riach has found Hanwha Phasor is just the right size to achieve ambitious goals.
“Our parent, Hanwha Systems, is becoming a global force in satcom, especially with the recent investment in OneWeb. And its ambition for us is well-resourced: that means the right tools for the job and budget for training. Because we’re an independent unit, we can get on and do what we know how to do.”
Riach feels that even the more ‘theoretical’ experts in the business are practical when it comes to addressing commercial reality and design for manufacturing.
“They think about solutions with a product in mind so their recommendations are applicable in the real world. And that’s not always the case with engineers.”
Hanwha Phasor will need more people with a range of expertise to work on these challenges. “If you’re looking for intelligent life and an ecosystem where you can shape the future of satcom, come and talk to us.”