Michael D. Wheeler
Raytheon Amber, a manufacturer of infrared focal plane array technology, plans to close its facility here and consolidate operations in what was formerly the Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center. The move comes as part of a widespread restructuring announced by Raytheon Amber's parent company, Raytheon Systems Inc.
While layoffs at Raytheon Amber appear likely, it remains unclear how many of the 220 employees at the Goleta plant will be absorbed by the Hughes facility, according to David Shay, manager of media relations for Raytheon Systems. Raytheon completed its acquisition of Hughes Defense in December.
Operating since 1981, the Goleta division designs and manufactures focal plane array detectors and high-performance cooled and uncooled infrared imaging systems. It also develops integrated circuit readouts, focal plane array fabrication, software and electronics. When Raytheon acquired Amber in 1992, it leveraged Amber's focal plane array technology into Raytheon's military programs.
Amber's merger with Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center has caused widespread speculation about its potential impact on the IR market.
One industry expert said the consolidation would narrow the competitive field. Also factored into the changing market is the December merger of two of Raytheon Amber's chief competitors, FLIR and Agema. Both manufacture IR cameras. He added that the merger may be a sign that Amber is moving away from the commercial market to concentrate on defense. A reduction of Amber's presence in the marketplace could leave less competition in areas such as condition monitoring. Condition monitoring is an application related to preventive maintenance on factory floors. Other commercial applications include nondestructive testing, R&D and manufacturing process control.
Gabor Fulop, president of the market research firm Maxtech International Inc. in Valley Forge, Pa., presents a slightly different view, predicting the "new" Amber will emerge much stronger in both the commercial and defense sectors. A key to that strength is the expertise that both companies have in uncooled focal plane array technology, specifically microbolometers.
"Both Amber and [Santa Barbara Research Center] have licenses from Honeywell to produce microbolometers. That combination will be powerful," said Fulop. He predicted that after developers overcome some technical glitches hampering their manufacture, the microbolometer market is set to explode.
In addition, with only a handful of companies possessing the Honeywell license, the merger puts Raytheon on the brink of head-to-head competition with the likes of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Raytheon's recent acquisition of Texas Instruments' defense business also adds expertise in the field of ferroelectric focal plane array technology.