PlaneWave Instruments - 2022 Coolest Thing Made in Michigan
This article appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
The stars have aligned for PlaneWave Instruments.
Back in the mid-1990s, a group of friends came together with a passion for astronomy and astro-photography, and a shared frustration of not being able to find affordable telescopic equipment. This shared passion set the groundwork for PlaneWave Instruments, an Adrian-based manufacturer and the 2022 Coolest Thing Made in Michigan winner.
Founded in 2006 in California, PlaneWave makes precise, high-end astronomical telescopes for commercial customers in the aerospace industry, professional and amateur researchers and astrophotographers. The people who founded PlaneWave still lead the company today and have made it their mission to make telescopes of the highest quality and available to professionals and amateurs who are just as passionate as they are.
“We all loved making telescopes and using telescopes,” says Richard Hedrick, co-founder and President of PlaneWave.
The team got together at a community college in southern California where they, with the help of a professor, founded a telescope-making class that is still available to students today. Before discovering the new class and meeting Hedrick, Jason Fournier, Vice President of Product Development, couldn’t afford a commercial telescope to support his hobby, so he decided to build his own.
“I was really into photography and wanted to take some really great pictures of the sky but didn’t have the money for equipment, so I started building my own,” says Fournier.
Making affordable, high-quality equipment for people just as passionate as they are is what drives the company today.
“It’s our job to get awesome equipment into the hands of people who are going to do incredible things with it,” says Fournier. “We’re always excited to see what great discoveries our customers are going to find with our great equipment.”
Precision and Process
Seeing clearly into outer space takes an incredible amount of science, precision and a little bit of art. Many components need to come together seamlessly for a telescope to work well, but the optical function is really where the eye meets the sky. That’s where Joe Haberman, Vice President of Optics and co-founder, comes in.
In the early years, Haberman says they used “crude instrumentation” to machine and shape the glass into telescope mirrors. But they’ve come a long way since community college in both their technology and process.
“The glass arrives in more or less a raw form, so we machine it into the general shape that we want,” says Haberman. “Once we get that general shape, that’s where the fun starts. You have to start removing nanometers worth of glass and then measure that to know how far you’ve gone.”
Culture and Community
As the company continues to grow, Hedrick is focused on advancing the culture and community spirit that has supported their success.
Making the move from California to Michigan has also aligned with their values as a company and their passion for community engagement. Hedrick and the team are the backbone organization for the Adrian Center for the Arts and the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, both of which reside on the PlaneWave campus. PlaneWave staff founded a local leadership group called Adrian Better Tomorrow and sit on the local Downtown Development Authority and Adrian Symphony boards. They are active investors in downtown Adrian where they own four historic buildings and re-opened a beloved restaurant that closed during COVID-19.
PlaneWave’s success today is driven by the same shared passion that brought together a group of hobbyists more than 30 years ago. With market-leading technology, a mission of “Pursuit of the Perfect Telescope” and a future as bright as the stars, PlaneWave is a highly deserving recipient of the 2022 Coolest Thing Made in Michigan.
The John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award is part of the annual MFG Excellence Awards which celebrate the leaders and products that are pushing the industry forward. Learn more about the awards program and gala.