AmeriCOM Secures First College Partner for Precision Optics Consortium

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Sussex County Community College (SCCC) in New Jersey is the first college to partner with the American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM), under AmeriCOM’s Department of Defense-funded, five-year, $34 million Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership. SCCC announced the partnership Aug. 25, two months after it was announced that AMERICOM had been selected for DOD funding for the Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership.

The public-private project is intended to help strengthen and boost the domestic precision optics industry, including helping more people enter the optics workforce. SCCC will receive as much as $2 million to support its optics technology program, creating a state-of-the-art lab, distance learning courses, and dual-credit programs at regional high schools.

The Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership is also known as the Defense Precision Optics Workforce Development and Technology Ecosystem Project. The partnership also aims to identify gaps in the precision optics defense industrial base and undertake new R&D to solve the industry’s technical challenges, thereby securing the supply chain.

“There is not an industry on the face of the planet that is not using optics and photonics in some way,” Tom Battley, vice president of government and partnerships at AmeriCOM, said. “Semiconductors, car back-up cameras and collision avoidance, your mobile smartphones, medical diagnostics, GPS imaging, and of course hundreds of applications in defense and aerospace. Night vision, laser defense, and much of what is on aircraft — the Apache helicopter alone has over 300 optical systems. Every one of these systems needs optical engineers, and every optical engineer needs several optics technicians to create the optics and build something that will work in the real world. The demand for these skilled workers is very high.”

Sussex students in the Optics Technology program get hands-on experience in the Thorlabs classroom. Courtesy of SCCC.
Sussex County Community College students in the optics technology program get hands-on experience in the Thorlabs classroom. Courtesy of SCCC.
The associates degree in applied science and the professional certificates in optics technology at SCCC both focus on the manufacturing end of the industry, and include courses in other aspects of the industry. Students in the program apply the study of optics and the behavior of light to a manufacturing setting, readying them to embark on careers as technicians in the optics industry. In addition, students will learn advanced skills in understanding technical drawings, SCCC said, in a press release announcing the partnership agreement.

“Given the nature of technology today, I cannot think of an industry sector that has not incorporated optics technology into the core of its products,” SCCC President Jon Connolly said. “Sensors, detectors, measurement, transmission of light, signaling, photography, and video of every type are present in essentially everything we use today. Automotive, biomedical, aerospace, research, consumer products. This proliferation of optics applications has not been met with a proliferation of workers to produce these instruments and devices. Without these workers, the industry is crippled. We are thrilled to be able to partner with AmeriCOM on this all-important sector of the economy and to purchase the necessary equipment to train the current, and next generation, of workers in optics technology.”

Additionally, SCCC has partnered with Thorlabs, headquartered in Newton, N.J., for several years. “New Jersey has a rich history for R&D as well as manufacturing optics and photonics equipment, and as such is an ideal location to grow an optics technology program,” Paul Melone, business unit leader of Thorlabs’ advanced photonics group, said. “Thorlabs, along with Inrad Optics, Esco Optics, and Special Optics are excited to support and partner with SCCC as they launch this program. AmeriCOM continues to be an inspiration in our battle to develop optics technicians, assemblers, and opticians. This grant will be vital in providing state-of-the-art manufacturing products and a knowledgeable workforce in the years to come.”

In its press release, the college said, “SCCC looks to meet the nationwide demand head-on and model the successful program provided by Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y. MCC remains one of the nations’ leading colleges for precision optics. SCCC is looking to replicate the MCC program and expand its optics on campus and with new equipment provided by the grant.”

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Published: August 2021
educationBusinessAmeriCOMOpticsNew Jerseyprecision optics technicianskills developmentDoDThomas BattleyThorlabsDefense Precision Optics Consortium partnershipdefenseaerospacesensorsjob trainingworkforceworkforce managementworkforce educationlight speed

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