Corning Inc. is a technology powerhouse with a split personality. That might seem incongruous for a 150-year-old company in western New York State known for cookware and once called the Corning Glass Works. But now Corning is reaching for a growing share in the optical components market. As a result its engineers need to stay abreast of optical communications know-how to develop such optical products as pump lasers, wavelength splitters, modulators and other components.
Leading the company down the new path are multidisciplinary managers Diane Murray and Dan Janisch who co-manage the Manufacturing Control Systems team. MCS provides manufacturing engineering resources for different businesses throughout Corning. Headquartered in Corning, N.Y. but responsible for helping Corning Inc. businesses worldwide, the team boasts more than 100 engineers in seven technology areas.
The team's engineers have backgrounds in electronics engineering, physics, computer science and software programming that aid them in creating manufacturing processes for products that span the broad range of Corning's businesses. They design processes for manufacturing TV tubes, ceramics for catalytic converters, LCD (liquid-crystal display) glass, fiber-optic cable, photonics, lasers and optical networking devices and DNA microarray chips.
To insure that there is enough talent on the team to develop multiple processes for a variety of products, engineers specialize in one of seven distinct technology areas within the group, including machine controls, motion controls, measurements, instrumentation, process control, manufacturing execution systems and optical measurements.
At one time, MCS engineers waited for their brethren on product development teams to "throw projects over the wall" to be manufactured. That doesn't happen any more. As other technology companies have learned, Corning must design for manufacturability, involving MCS engineers in product development projects earlier on than it did three or four years ago.
Janisch believes the change stems from a shortage of engineers available to work on new-product projects. "We're not doing research-this is more applied engineering," he explained. "We're bridging a wider gap of innovation that exists because of a shortage of engineering resources."
The team's increased involvement in new products has grown since Corning changed from a continuous to a discrete manufacturing company. Instead of producing huge volumes of a small number of products, the company manufactures smaller volumes of many different products. These products all require specially tweaked manufacturing processes that engineers must design. Corning also needs to bring manufacturing engineers into projects sooner to bring products to market faster. "Especially in the new products we're involved with in telecom, optical communications and consumer goods, getting products to market fast is key," said Murray.
|Diane Murray and Dan Janisch are managing a team of 100
engineers spanning seven technology areas to get products to market fast. |
Corning has a long history of innovation. In addition to supplying ceramics and glass for housewares as well as the glass for Thomas Edison's electric light bulb, over the last three decades the company transformed itself into a cutting-edge developer of products for the Internet infrastructure.
The tide of technology firsts began with the invention in 1970 of the first optical fiber capable of transmitting information over long distances. In the 1980s, its scientists developed sheet glass for active-matrix LCDs and photonic components to split, modify, amplify and distribute light signals in fiber-optic telecommunications systems.
In 2001, Corning is a leader in optical networking technology, providing optical fiber and optical components, as well as liquid-crystal display glass and lasers, and products for genomics research, including DNA microarrays, glass slides that allow researchers to analyze thousands of genes at once. Its fastest-growing business segments are telecom, information displays and advanced materials with its $1 billion Photonics Technologies Division leading the way. Corning still supplies ceramics and glass for scientific, environmental and high-tech markets.
Corning hires experienced engineers from across the country. This recruitment becomes more difficult as it seeks to hire engineers in the hot area of optical communications.
According to Murray and Janisch, most experienced engineers they hire tend to have more than one area of expertise and a broad range of skills to bring to the team, something they feel is increasingly important as the company enters more competitive markets.
"In the future there probably will be a lot of demand for those [engineers] with broad knowledge and experience," noted Murray, who is a mechanical engineer by training, but whose education strongly emphasized electronics and controls.
Driving that need will be a market atmosphere where speed-to-market is imperative, and the more insight an individual has in a particular technology, the faster he or she can help the company get a product to market. Murray believes EEs who can also offer an aptitude in materials science and mechanical engineering will be increasingly important members on the MCS team. Today, some EEs adapt their experience in semiconductor theory to the optics area. In addition to broad knowledge of different technologies, Murray said future engineers will need to demonstrate leadership and project management.