Documenting developments in the history of our ground-breaking mobile satcom solution
28 January 2022
this is surely every engineer’s idea of heaven – taking a piece of kit apart and putting it back together again. And if it’s a piece of disruptive technology, so much the better.
In early November 2021, that was the good fortune for a large and highly engaged team of new product introduction (NPI) specialists at Plexus Corp., with which mobile satcom phased array antenna design house Hanwha Phasor entered a formal partnership in August 2021. Plexus specialises in the design and development, introduction, manufacturing and aftermarket service of disruptive, complex products.
Under the watchful Plexus gaze, Hanwha Phasor’s Lead New Product Introduction Engineer Mark Radford and Principal Mechanical Engineer Gordon Riach stripped the world’s first commercially viable active electronically-steered array (AESA) for satellite communication on the move back to its bare [printed circuit] boards – and put it back together again. Quality Assurance Manager Chris Messaritis attended to familiarise himself with Plexus’ approach to traceability and quality control.
The scene of a two-day design-for-manufacture workshop was Plexus’ engineering, prototyping and early production facility in Livingston, Scotland, kickstarting the industrialisation of the first release of Hanwha Phasor’s leading flat panel array known as the M6 – a six-module configuration of the scaleable design. Plexus will review materials, build sequence and tooling.
“This was the first opportunity for us to let Plexus touch and feel the hardware and get a sense of the complexity of putting it together,” said Radford, a veteran of Hanwha Phasor’s start-up days.
He continues: “We’ve tinkered enough in the lab [a state-of-the-art prototyping facility in central London]. Now we’re putting ourselves out there”
He explains: “This is a prototype assembled by design engineers. When some things didn’t quite line up and a few features were added over time, we always just said: ‘fine – just grab the drill. I will make it fit’. Now, with Plexus, we can look at materials and processes that weren’t viable at the low-volume development stage, while continuing to innovate. The aim is to make thousands.”
Riach agrees. He admits to doing his share of engineering refinement and observes: “At a certain point, you need to stop the cycle. The workshop really marked the very necessary transition from development to final specification and definition.
“Part of that process involves absorbing feedback from the Plexus team on Day Two of the workshop so that we can improve the design for manufacture. The goal is a product that is fit for production and ready for market – and leveraging Plexus’ experience in delivering product at volume.”
Riach has introduced new products before but highlights the essential nature of the relationship between Hanwha Phasor and Plexus. “This is not a ‘do-not-deviate build-to-print’ relationship.”
He explains: “It’s because of the new and innovative nature of the product. I was in the space sector before, with very stringent certification requirements so NPI was very regimented in terms of what you could and could not do. We don’t have those constraints at this stage.”
Soon, the Plexus team will make a return visit to Hanwha Phasor’s prototyping facility in central London to observe our test processes, ready to replicate and extend test solutions that are capable of addressing volume production in its Livingston plant.
Until then, they are spending the next month living with the M6 mobile satcom antenna, plus a few PCBs, modules, and CAD data, after which they will firm up the design-for-manufacture review and present proposals to improve reliability and reduce the cost of producing it – without diminishing its core interoperability.
Radford’s review of the event is wholly positive: “We know that we have an extended team at Plexus, just as engaged in designing and making this product as we are at Record Hall [our London headquarters].