Inside EDGE – Electro-Optic Centre of Excellence: starting MRO, aiming at design and development

Paolo Valpolini

Maintaining and repairing electro-optical systems is an issue if no dedicated facility is available. Sending systems back to the original manufacturer for MRO purposes is expensive and time consuming, often leaving platforms unavailable for long periods of time. EDGE created a specific entity for ensuring MRO activities for electro-optic products, the EOCE, for Electro-Optic Centre of Excellence

Reduce costs and increase availability of electro-optic systems, hence that of the platforms on which they are installed, was certainly the first aim for creating the EOCE, however this is definitely not the final one. The EOCE is part of EARTH, for Emirates Advanced Research and Technology Holding LLC, which is part of the EDGE group. The structure was ready in 2019, however COVID pandemic issues delayed initial operations until late 2021.

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“We have 3,100 m2 of clean operating space including clean rooms ranging from Class 5 to Class 8, and our aim is to maintain, repair and overhaul all electro-optic systems in service with the UAE Armed Forces in our centre of excellence, without sending them back to their country of origin,” Shrikumar Menon, the head of the EOCE, told EDR On-Line.

Servicing those systems in country reduces considerably bureaucracy, exporting defence related items even only temporary is definitely a time-consuming business, to which we must add travelling time, and then queuing up to the OEM where systems of the same type are coming for MRO from different customers.

Currently the EOCE is working closely with some of the OEMs providing optronics to the UAE military and law enforcement agencies, such as Elbit Systems and L3Harris. On February 1st, 2024, the latter announced the opening of a Wescam Authorised Service Centre in cooperation with EDGE, the group entity involved being obviously EARTH’s EOCE. Servicing optronic products in country reduces turnaround times from months to weeks bringing considerable benefits in terms of cost and equipment availability. The facility layout is organised in eight zones, under a modular concept, each zone being assigned to one OEM. All technicians are UAE nationals, and the company serves all types of electro-optic systems such as night vision goggles, binoculars, and gimbals, for land, air and naval use.

Of course, EDGE through the EOCE aims at gathering work from neighbouring regions, firstly the Gulf Cooperation Council states, then the Middle East at large, and finally Africa, where no such facilities and capabilities exist. “Until now we signed agreements with 18 countries,” the head of the EOCE told EDR On-Line, “but we are confident that other countries will come to Abu Dhabi for servicing their electro-optic systems.”

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Beside clean spaces the Electro-Optics Centre of Excellence is equipped with all instrumentation to allow operating on lasers, cameras, and electronic components. These include climatic chambers able to simulate temperature and altitude, as well as humidity and salinity. The EOCE is also capable to conduct thorough vibration tests in On the top of the roof a line-of-sight testing room is available, which overlooks the surrounding areas where specific targets have been identified to allow correlation with laser rangefinders measurements, checking accuracy, and to provide tests once the maintained equipment has been reassembled, the centre being able to carry out full factory acceptance tests before delivering the system back to the customer.

The EOCE has also equipped a van allowing troubleshooting at users’ sites. This further cut on time and cost; if the team can fix the problem the system goes back immediately into use, while if the problem cannot be solved on site the system is brought back to the EOCE for higher level maintenance.

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The EOCE is sealing agreements for Transfer of Technology and Transfer of Knowledge with the main players in the electro-optic domain, such as the aforementioned ones to which we can add for example Controp and Thales. Assembly of new products is staring at EOCE, with limitations eventually imposed by the original manufacturer, but this is only one more step towards independence.

“We will slowly move into the design business, shaping up our competences and capabilities, and in four-five years’ time we aim unveiling our own electro-optic products,” Shrikumar Menon stated. IDEX 2029 might see the launch of an EDGE electro-optic products line.

Photos courtesy EDGE