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AIM Photonics receives $321 million in funding

The American Institute of Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics has secured a seven-year cooperative agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, which includes funding of more than $321 million, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Monday.

The funding includes $165 million awarded by AFRL on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and $156 million from other sources, including more than $60 million previously awarded from New York state as part of a $250 million commitment to establish the institute, contributions from participating companies, colleges and universities, and other state governments. The funds will be used to help ensure the manufacturing readiness of advanced photonics, a technology that is essential to national security and critical to the future of high-performance microelectronics, officials explained.

“As New York continues to rebuild our economy, we remain focused on growing the new and emerging technology sectors that will be the economic engines of the future,” Hochul said. “Under my administration, New York will always do everything possible to support our brightest minds as they push the boundaries of what is possible and with this funding in hand, we are now better able to ensure New York and the nation will remain at the forefront in the world of technological innovation, research and development.”

Headquartered at the Albany Nanotech Complex, AIM Photonics will continue its work to develop advanced integrated photonics capabilities for a variety of existing products and will enable critical applications such as data communications, telecommunications, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), chemical and biological sensing, artificial intelligence, quantum applications and custom DoD applications.

AIM Photonics has been nationally recognized for creating the world’s first open-access complete silicon photonic manufacturing ecosystem that supports current and future photonics technologies. AIM’s ecosystem provides the photonics industry, the academic research community and the DoD access to a full suite of design tools, advanced wafer fabrication, testing and chip packaging technologies throughout the entire product development cycle. The work is conducted at the Test, Assembly and Packaging (TAP) facility in Rochester and at the Albany Nanotech Complex, which is owned and operated by NY CREATES and is recognized as the most advanced, publicly owned semiconductor R&D site in the nation.

“We are uniquely positioned to provide a proven, advanced manufacturing environment that is vital for the evolution of integrated photonics,” said Tod Laursen, acting president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute and chairman of the AIM Photonics Leadership Council. “Our goal is to continue to increase industry, academic and government participation in the commercialization of this critical technology by providing unparalleled access to the advanced infrastructure needed to support the full development cycle of both current and future integrated photonic applications.”

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AmeriCOM to partner with DoD on optics consortium

The Rochester-based American Center for Optics Manufacturing Inc. (AmeriCOM) has been selected for a five-year $34 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Industrial Policy program to launch a nationwide public-private Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership between the U.S. government, industry and academia.

Also known as the Defense Precision Optics Workforce Development and Technology Ecosystem Project, the partnership is designed to boost the domestic precision optics industry by identifying gaps in the precision optics defense industrial base and undertaking new R&D to solve the industry’s technical challenges, thereby securing the supply chain.

Some $11.5 million was secured in the Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 omnibus appropriations legislation for the DoD to start the pilot program.

“Rochester is a proven leader in the precision optics industry, and the AmeriCOM partnership with the DoD means that in addition to securing the domestic supply chain, the region will play a direct hand in preparing Upstate New Yorkers for good-paying, in-demand jobs that are vital to our national security,” Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement. “The funding announced today will boost the domestic precision optics industry and revolutionize optics tech and manufacturing, as well as the Finger Lakes workforce. It’s the first step to ensuring that all of New York and the entire nation has the workforce it needs to attract, build and sustain a strong precision optics industry.”

As part of the partnership and as precision optics manufacturers experience a critical workforce shortage, AmeriCOM plans to create a nationwide network to attract and train specialists for the industry, particularly skilled optics technicians.

“The precision optical systems that our Armed Forces depend upon in the air, on the water and on the ground also permeate the average citizen’s daily lives in their cars, on their phones, in public safety and in consumer products,” AmeriCOM Vice President Tom Battley said. “One cannot overstate the importance of maintaining a strong competitive posture in this industry. That includes new manufacturing technologies as well as the highly skilled technicians to implement them. That’s the AmeriCOM mission.”

The funding announced Tuesday was awarded from the DoD’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program. Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Joe Morelle previously worked to secure $7.5 million in funding into the DoD’s FY2020 budget and $4 million in its FY2021 budget to create the DoD’s precision optics manufacturing pilot program in order to address the precision optics industry’s supply chain and workforce development issues.

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Ortho Clinical Diagnostics receives $53.7 million COVID-19 testing contract

Rochester’s Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has been awarded a $53.7 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to fund manufacturing capacity expansion dedicated to U.S. customers of the company’s COVID-19 antigen and two antibody tests and for the company’s VITROS System laboratory instruments.

Ortho Clinical, one of the world’s largest pure-play IVD companies, created the first high-volume, COVID-19 antigen and antibody tests to receive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization at Ortho’s Global Center of Excellence for R&D in Rochester, providing mass-scale testing solutions at the height of the pandemic.

The DoD contract is on behalf of and in coordination with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has been a fixture in Rochester for over three decades, and we consider it an honor to support the nation with high-quality laboratory analyzers and highly accurate COVID-19 tests as we return to our ‘new normal’ and reopen the world,” said Tony Allen, head of operations for Ortho’s Rochester site. “The continued support from BARDA and DoD is a significant investment in Ortho’s local R&D and operations infrastructure, but equally significant to the local economy and community.”

In June 2020, BARDA awarded Ortho $678,000 in support of the company’s COVID-19 antibody testing program, followed by an additional $12.85 million in September 2020 to support the development of the company’s SARS-CoV-2 antigen test, a diagnostic test designed for the rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19 and continued longer-term regulatory pathway support for Ortho’s antibody tests.

The company expects to deliver more than 6.7 million COVID-19 tests per month to the U.S. market by April 2022.

“I’m thrilled that Ortho Clinical Diagnostics has received this significant award that is a testament to their national leadership in the high-tech innovation sector,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit. “Not only is their work critical to strengthening our economy, it is helping our local efforts to fight this pandemic and revitalize our communities. I’m grateful for their longstanding commitment to supporting Rochester and congratulate their team on this exciting opportunity.”

Ortho’s Rochester facilities manufacture fluids and proprietary VITROS XT Microslide assays, which help labs test for antibodies and antigens or detect and measure the amount of substance, hormone or clinical marker in the sample. VITROS XT MicroSlides allow two tests typically performed together — like glucose and calcium — to be performed on the same slide, allowing labs to get results faster.

Ortho Clinical Diagnostics operates three facilities, including two manufacturing facilities and an administrative building, at Canal Ponds in Rochester, which collectively employ some 1,200 people. The new contract will add 30 jobs in both manufacturing and R&D. Ortho Clinical Diagnostics formerly was Clinical Diagnostics Inc., a division of Eastman Kodak Co. before Johnson & Johnson purchased it in 1994.

“Ortho’s ongoing partnership with BARDA and DoD to significantly expand our COVID-19 testing manufacturing capabilities underscores the continued and critical importance of bolstering the nation’s testing infrastructure by leveraging highly accurate, automated and scalable diagnostic and serological tests that are FDA emergency use authorized,” said Ortho Clinical Chairman and CEO Chris Smith. “Our high-volume testing solutions have already been an indispensable asset for hospitals, reference labs and public health leaders across the country, particularly in rural and underserved communities. We look forward to expanding the availability of these testing solutions to communities in need.”

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L3Harris awarded military contracts

Two of the L3Harris Technologies Inc. divisions based in Rochester have been tapped by the U.S. military to develop communications tools for land and air.

U.S. Special Operations Command has awarded L3Harris an initial $82 million full-rate production order for its new Falcon IV AN/PRC-167 multi-channel manpack radio that will provide Special Operations Forces with advanced communications capabilities. The radios will be produced in Rochester at L3Harris’ Communications Systems division.

Separately, L3Harris’ Space and Airborne Systems division will help the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) develop artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) systems to help reduce the amount of time it takes to decipher usable intelligence from increasing amounts of data collected from space and airborne assets.

L3Harris will research, develop and demonstrate an AI/ML interface using data science techniques under a new multimillion-dollar contract to support DOD applications.

“L3Harris’ work will allow the DOD to turn massive volumes of data into actionable intelligence,” said Space and Airborne Systems President Ed Zoiss. “The abundance of data collected by space and airborne assets is only increasing. The findings of this research will directly address the data processing challenges within the DOD and Intelligence Community.”

L3Harris will perform the Space and Airborne Systems work in Rochester, Melbourne, Fla., and Herndon, Va.

The Communication Systems order is part of a $255 million IDIQ contract awarded by USSOCOM under the Next Generation Tactical Communications program to deliver multi-channel manpack radios.

The multi-channel manpack and handheld radios are key elements of USSOCOM’s next-generation tactical communications. They provide complete DoD and coalition interoperability with the disruptive technology needed to enable mission success against current and future threats.

“SOF are constantly pushing boundaries to execute their missions with greater stealth and speed,” said Communication Systems President Dana Mehnert. “The AN/PRC-167 provides situational understanding between the tactical edge and command elements, allowing cognitive overmatch in any operational scenario.”

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IEC lands $50 million contract, adds 109 staffers in fiscal first half

IEC Electronics Corp. has been awarded a top global defense company contract worth more than $50 million.

The multiyear contract is for a program the Newark manufacturer has supported for several years from a single service line. The new contract will support the entire outsourcing of a program associated with secured communications equipment for U.S. aircraft, ground vehicles and surface warships, officials said Wednesday.

“This contract win is an exciting development for IEC because we believe it demonstrates this leading defense contractor’s continue confidence in our capabilities and dependability as a full-service electronics manufacturer for life-saving, mission-critical programs,” IEC President and CEO Jeffrey Schlarbaum said in a statement. “We have deliberately focused on enhancing our technical capabilities to position IEC as a distinguished, vertically integrated manufacturing partner who has the ability to serve as a seamless extension of our customers’ supply chain, including the ability to fulfill their entire life-cycle outsourcing needs.”

IEC officials did not disclose the name of the Tier 2 Department of Defense contractor or which DOD branches might ultimately use the electronics. But Schlarbaum in IEC’s earnings call May 11, suggested the company had experienced an increase in orders from longtime customers.

“Our growth continues to be purely organic, driven by our customers who, based on our ability to meet and exceed their expectations, are awarding us new programs and projects,” he said in the call.

The call made clear that something was in the works: IEC in the first half of fiscal 2019 added 109 employees, including 58 new hires in the second quarter.

“The life-saving and mission-critical nature of the programs we support requires that we hire and train staff in advance of a particular program ramping up,” Schlarbaum said in the earnings call. “While we have automated systems for a large number of our manufacturing process steps, the complex designs that we are tasked to translate into finished products most often require highly skilled personnel to perform various forms of assembly and tests.”

For the second quarter ended March 29, IEC reported revenues of $37.3 million, a more than 17 percent increase from the year-ago quarter. Net income for the quarter was $700,000, compared with $1.6 million in the second quarter last year. On a per-share basis, earnings were 6 cents.

IEC is a provider of electronic manufacturing services to advanced technology companies that produce life-saving and mission-critical products for the medical, industrial, aerospace and defense sectors. The company last year announced plans to expand its Newark operations, rather than locate elsewhere. The $50 million expansion is slated for completion this year.

IEC shares (NYSE: IEC) were up more than 11 percent in heavy trading midday Wednesday. At $6.68, IEC stock was trading at roughly the midrange of the company’s 52-week high-low.

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