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April 1, 2019 manufacturing awards

New England Optical Systems has grown 60% as U.S. military spending grows

Among its many products, NEOS has a fisheye lens with a 200-degree field of view.

As the U.S. defense budget increases, so too does activity at New England Optical Systems. The company manufactures infrared optical systems, primarily for the defense industry in the Central Massachusetts technology hub of Marlborough.

About 90 percent of NEOS' business is with U.S. Department of Defense contractors for ground, air and sea platforms.

“Anywhere the Department of Defense needs night vision sensors is where we provide lenses,” said Chief Operating Officer Todd Stolberg.

NEOS, founded in 2008 by Stolberg and his two partners, Greg Fitzgerald and Ron Stern, now has 26 employees and works with some of the country's largest defense contractors, including Raytheon in Waltham and Lockheed Martin in Maryland.

Secret uses

Because of the highly-sensitive nature of the defense industry, Stolberg couldn't disclose many defense-related applications, but did say the lenses are used on cameras stationed at both the northern and southern U.S. borders near Canada and Mexico.

Other lenses are installed on U.S. Navy ships for surveillance and targeting. Other applications include thermal weapons sights and handheld binoculars.

“Really anything where night vision is required is where we play,” Stolberg said.

Smaller parts of the company operate in the astronomy field for companies mapping the Milky Way Galaxy. The infrared technology helps determine the age of stars and other galaxies.

Seeing far away

FLIR Systems, based in Orgeon, is the largest manufacturer of infrared cameras used for security, surveillance and weapons systems used to measure surface temperatures of objects like missiles, helicopter blades, or electrical circuits that can't be measured using traditional means.

Ross Overstreet, a national sales manager for FLIR, said NEOS' lenses excel in the most challenging ends of the optical performance envelope.

“For example, some FLIR cameras use a NEOS telescope lens to provide a horizontal field of view of around 1 degree,” Overstreet said. “This has allowed us to collect signature data on aircraft many miles away and image rocket launches for over 50 miles downrange.”

That same lens has been used to collect astronomical data during solar and lunar eclipses, Overstreet added.

Capitalizing on military spending

NEOS was founded in the middle of a recession, but it seized on an opportunity as other larger companies in the same field struggled to complete projects on time and under budget.

The company was formed to better meet those military needs, Stolberg said.

As the defense budget under President Donald Trump has increased over his first two years in office, NEOS has grown at a 60-percent clip. For fiscal 2019, the U.S. military budget is $686 billion.

However, NEOS says its customer service and the ability to get products finished on time and on budget is what sets it apart.

“That was our focus, and we kept that as our focus throughout the 11 years we've been in business,” Stolberg said.

Read about the other WBJ 2019 Manufacturing Excellence Award winners

Manufacturing Excellence Award, Large Company - AIS

Manufacturing Excellence Award, Small Company - Organomation

Green Manufacturing Award - Acorn Deck House Co.

Product Design & Innovation Award - CPI Radant Technologies Division, Inc.

Collaboration in Manufacturing Award - Carpe Diem Technologies, Inc.

Workplace Development & Productivity Award - SLIDEWAYS, Inc.

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