Building for the future
Advanced manufacturing opens the door for the radars of tomorrow
Robots working with other robots. Storage boxes that know who is using specific tools. Smart systems that track every spare part. Unmanned carts that move out of the way when they meet a person in the hall.
At a shiny new facility in Andover, Massachusetts, robots are working hand-in-machine with engineers and operators to build incredibly powerful radars for the U.S. and allied militaries.
“Radars are our bread and butter,” said Bill Tice, director of modernization and innovation at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. “The whole thing is about [making radars] efficiently and affordably.”
At the far end of the Andover manufacturing facility’s quarter-mile-long main corridor, construction crews have put the finishing touches on a 30,000-square-foot addition. That's the home of low-rate initial production for one of the largest radars Raytheon has ever built: the U.S. Navy’s AN/SPY-6 integrated air and missile defense radar.
“We strategically sized for future growth, so we’re ready for even bigger and more powerful [radars],” said Sarah Jennette, program manager for the project.
Before 150,000 80-pound bags of concrete laid the groundwork for the $72 million space, the entire facility was completely scoped out, designed and simulated in virtual reality in Raytheon’s Immersive Design Center. Futuristic automation is at the heart of the new construction, from autonomous material movement in unmanned vehicles to an industry-first, dual-robotic system — think multiple robots working together to build a radar.
The sheer magnitude of the space is impressive. Natural light floods the room, reaching the ceilings, which are 60 feet high. The largest near-field range doors stand 38 feet high; picture the gate to Jurassic Park, if it was made of solid steel.
In the building, purple and blue lights peak out from the bottom of rolling bots. These small, autonomous robot vehicles quietly cross the room, carrying materials to the robots that build.
“We built it with the future in mind…our new space is the cornerstone of a fully integrated campus that goes from atoms all the way up to [radar] arrays,” said Jennette.
The facility can easily handle radar programs of various sizes and power requirements. But it’s also ready for new development programs that have completely different – and even greater – power specifications, thanks to a dedicated 1.5 megawatt substation. That's enough power for nearly 1,500 homes.
One of the radar development facility’s two ranges, used to test radar arrays, is the largest across Raytheon and one of the largest in the defense industry – measuring 50 feet wide, more than 80 feet long and more than 50 feet high. It is covered by 72,000 pyramidal cones, which reflect sound and radar frequency energy.
The world is full of radio frequency, or RF, signals that span spectrum. There's an anechoic chamber inside a near-field range that can block RF out, allowing engineers to accurately measure radars in a quiet, signal-free environment. Since the anechoic chamber is essentially a metal box, it also keeps signals radiated from the radar inside. The RF absorber on the chamber walls, blue non-reflective foam, is there to absorb those signals so they do not bounce around the room and effect the measurement.
The new radar development facility in Massachusetts represents the next step in a Raytheon roadmap for the future. It follows the recent announcement that the company will build a new $100 million, 50,000-square-foot radar production facility at its manufacturing center in Forest, Mississippi.