Highly transparent organic polymer materials can be used as optical polymers for a range of applications, including illumination. These optics are known as polymer optics, or plastic optics.

Polymer materials

Polymers are one of the most used material types in the world. There are many kinds of polymers. Each with their own properties and specific applications they can be used for. One of these types of polymers are optical polymers.

There are a couple of polymer materials which can serve as optical materials. Common polymer materials which can be used for optical applications are:

  • PMMA
  • Polystyrene
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Liquid silicone (resins)
  • Polyurethane

As polymer optics are being used in all kinds of applications, ranging from biometric, to defense to consumer applications, it is no wonder that many companies now prefer plastic optics over glass optics.

Depending upon the application traditional optical polymers, like PMMA and PC, can be used. The optical properties of the optical polymers must be considered in developing applications. This includes properties related to light transmission, environmental resistance and refractive index.

Check our datasheet for our most up-to-date capabilities and material properties.

Properties of optical polymers

There are a variety of reasons to work with polymer optics. Let’s first take a closer look at some of the material properties.

Plastic optics are able to obtain a high light transmittance throughout the visible spectral region. They are even able to transmit light, to a limited extent, in the near infrared region.

Polymer optics have a refractive index of somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5.

Disadvantages

However, plastic optics also have some downsides. For starters they have a lower optical quality in comparison to glass materials. Optical glass materials can achieve higher optical quality levels. This is one of the reasons that glass materials are still being used, despite the higher costs.

In some situations the high-temperature sensitivity of plastic optics might be a problem. Luckily, our polymer material can be used at an operating temperature of 90°.

And last, plastic optics are of course softer than their glass counterparts. This means they are more prone to damage from scratches. However, an optical coating can negate this.

Advantages

Then there are also numerous advantages that plastic optics have over glass optics.

For starters, polymers have a low density, which allows for fabrication of lightweight optical components. This is a huge advantage over glass optics.

Then there is also the reduced costs for plastic optics manufacturing when compared to glass optics manufacturing.

Other benefits of optical polymers are:

  • Ability to integrate mechanical and optical features in plastic optic
  • High impact resistance
  • Lower price per unit
  • Shorter lead times (no grinding or polishing required)
  • Aspheric, freeform and other complex lens designs are possible

When comparing manufacturing lead times, design freedom, tolerances and production costs polymer optics become the best choice for your optical prototypes and series production.

Plastic optics: applications

Due to these advantages you can find polymer optics in all kinds of applications:

  • Consumer illumination applications
  • Headlights
  • Aerospace illumination
  • Laser scanners
  • Thermal sensors
  • Handheld devices
  • Optical storage devices

Optics prototyping and series production

We have developed a smart manufacturing process for plastic optics. With our technology we are able to manufacture plastic optics 10x faster than conventional optics manufacturing processes. Resulting in lead times of days, instead of weeks. Best of all, our process can be used for both prototyping as well as series production.

Optical prototyping becomes very cost-effective and fast with our approach. Within a couple of days you will receive your optical prototype(s). Do you need to make any changes after testing and validation? No problem. Our process makes it fast and cost-effective for you to iterate on your design. You can even have a couple of prototypes made, where each prototype is slightly different, so you can test with design works best. With conventional manufacturing this would be rather expensive.

And there is more; with our technology you can create freeform optics. Our unique manufacturing process allows for hollows and overhangs in the design, enabling you to create novel products. Addoptics enables innovation, product development and a faster time to market.

Last but not least: we work with industry-standard optical polymers only. Offering the best quality products within the shortest lead times possible.

Want to see for yourself? Request your optics sample here.

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