The 'A' Team
A cadre of high-tech experts builds the next-generation Navy radar
Raytheon’s Steve Acello shifted his way into the clutch of high-tech experts called a scrum. The team of engineers was working to develop the U.S. Navy’s new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). Together, they wrestled with some unexpected results from a component qualification test as they raced against the clock.
Acello was in his element.
“With the scrum approach, we become a problem-solving organism,” he said.
Bringing engineers from Raytheon and its suppliers together in the brainpower-sharing scrum – a term derived from the cluster of players on a rugby field – brought fast results. They quickly dug into the root of the problem. In just a few days, they redesigned connectors for some of the electronics, improved the performance and made sure their solution would work for every AMDR.
“It’s a learning situation, with all the stakeholders in the same room, leveraging each other’s talents so problems get communicated and solved very quickly,” Acello said.
The scrum is only one of the innovative ways that Raytheon works with suppliers to develop futuristic technologies like the AMDR. As Raytheon’s supplier quality manager for AMDR, Acello is a key practitioner, managing the quality of products from the high-precision manufacturers that design and build sub-systems for AMDR.
That’s a role he relishes. Acello is part of a critical strategy to bring the best technology companies together on major programs – like building a next-generation radar 30 times more sensitive than the one it will replace.
One of those companies, Anaren Microwave, develops a complex stack of circuitry to keep the radar beam in focus. Acello commutes regularly between his home in Rhode Island and Anaren’s offices in upstate New York.
“The beam-forming technology is a masterpiece of engineering,” said Acello. “It’s the heart of the radar, with dozens of layers of circuit boards that connect with very tight tolerances.”
Working with AMDR’s high tech suppliers is just the latest phase of Acello’s multi-faceted career. After serving as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, he moved into the civilian world, building a jewelry factory for Tiffany & Co. and managing manufacturing and quality for other luxury retailers. Later he worked with cable TV’s Home Shopping Network, overseeing product quality for the 24x7x365 network’s procurement and distribution centers.
“I’ve learned the way to get a good outcome is to start with high quality products and people that will uphold your requirements and processes,” he said. “So you start with good goods, and you finish with better goods that delight your customer.”
That’s the mission for Acello and his counterparts on Raytheon’s supplier quality team. The intention is to build the radar right the first time. That’s why they focus on planning and anticipating the challenges that come with each stage of the program.
“Many programs run into trouble in the transition from design to production,” said Acello. “To avoid that, Anaren has not only designed the hardware, they’ve also built the production tools, designed the workflow processes and trained their people so they are ready for manufacturing.”
For Anaren, the next step is achieving a level 8 manufacturing readiness assessment.
“The readiness level score is a Department of Defense initiative to quantify how ready a program is to enter the low rate initial production phase,” said Mike Dente, Raytheon’s AMDR production manager. “A level 8 designation is a high vote of confidence in manufacturability, and we want all our suppliers to be at that level.”
Most of the dozens of companies in the AMDR technosphere are small businesses, with fewer than 50 employees each. Each contributes a vital piece that will enable the radar to track more objects across greater distances, and scale up or down to fit a wide range of Navy ships.
Acello, a former Accredited Jewelry Professional, has a unique perspective on the quality of AMDR components.
“The parts going into this radar are like jewels,” he says. “You see an amazing level of precision and care in every aspect of the radar. It’s a great reflection on the pride and workmanship of the entire Raytheon and supplier team.”