Investing in Ceramics: Burleigh Expansion Nearly Doubles Facilities

October 25, 2000
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Burleigh Instruments, Inc. has manufactured precision scientific instruments for nearly 30 years. Its products have included optical test and measurement instruments, nanopositioning systems and micromanipulators, and surface imaging and measurement instruments.

Historically, the company's products served institutional and corporate research. More recently, its products have been used for the manufacture and testing of the newest generation of fiber optic telecommunications systems. Significant growth has resulted, requiring the expansion of the company's headquarters in Fishers, N.Y., a community 20 miles southeast of Rochester.

Building On

Burleigh started work on a 16,000-square-foot addition to its existing 18,500-square-foot facility in December 1999. Opening of the new addition was scheduled for October 2000. The new space will mainly house the company's manufacturing operations and is necessary to accommodate the significant increase in sales of its new products for fiber optic telecommunications. The space formerly occupied by manufacturing will be converted for new product development, sales and marketing, and related support functions.

The company believes that the new facility will meet its objectives through the year 2002, at which time another expansion will be necessary. The current project is estimated to cost in excess of $1.5 million, and the company plans to add 21 high tech jobs in the next three years.

Piezoelectric Ceramics

Burleigh was founded in 1972 to supply high precision tools to the almost brand new field of photonics. At the time, lasers were being developed as a new tool in the hands of researchers worldwide, and scientific applications of lasers required supporting instruments to both move and measure light. One challenge of working with lasers is the scale by which objects need to be moved. Positioning systems to control objects at a fraction of the wavelength was required.

The nature of converting electrical energy to mechanical energy with piezoelectric ceramics is well-known, as are the most common applications: ultrasonic cleaners and drills, wave generation and detection for sonar and related applications, sensors, buzzers and backyard gas grill lighters. The unique properties of piezoelectric ceramics also make them useful for high resolution positioning to control optics for laser-related applications. Since the dimensional change of the material is proportional to the applied voltage, the position of an object can be adjusted with nearly infinite resolution. They can be operated over millions of cycles without wear or deterioration.

Speed of response is very high, limited only by the inertia of the object being moved and the output capability of the electronic driver. Virtually no power is consumed or heat generated to maintain a piezoelectric actuator in an energized state. However, the maximum dimensional change of a piezoelectric actuator is on the order of 0.1% of its total length. For many optical applications, these small, micron-size motions are not a limitation. But to extend the usefulness of piezoelectric ceramics in fiber optics and other applications, larger motions are required.

To generate longer piezoelectric motion, Burleigh developed and patented a piezoelectric ceramic linear motor (InchwormR) to provide nanometer-scale resolution over many millimeters of motion. The design is based on three piezoelectric actuators connected in series. The three actuators act on a motor shaft individually to generated motion. When activated, the outside actuators grab the shaft. The middle, or center, actuator moves the shaft axially. By coordinating the outside clamp actuators with the movement of the center, motion, limited only by the length of the shaft, is generated.

Applications in Photonics Automation

The development of photonic devices today is largely driven by the need for components for fiber optic telecommunications systems. New methods are being employed to meet the ever-rising demand for bandwidth. A technique known as wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) is currently being used to multiply the number of channels a single optical fiber can carry. Similar to radio stations that broadcast on different frequencies, multiple wavelength channels can share fiber optic "space" without interfering with each other. Telecommunications systems that use wavelength division multiplexing require numerous types of components to generate, detect and manipulate the different optical channels.

Components for wavelength division multiplexing are now typically made using slow labor-intensive processes involving an operator to align and package an assembly by hand. For a number of reasons, the manufacture of these components must be made less expensive, faster, and smaller.

"Our technology is well-suited for the development of fiber optic telecommunications systems," said Dave Farrell, president. "Since this industry is poised for explosive growth for many years to come, we will need to continue to rapidly alter our business methods and processes to meet their needs. Our expansion plans give us the flexibility to rapidly change."

For More Information

For additional information about Burleigh or its products, contact Tim Klimasewski, Burleigh Instruments, Inc., Burleigh Park, Fishers, NY 14453-0755, (716) 924-9355, fax (716) 924-9072, or e-mail info@burleigh.com.

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