Since the start of this century, optical component manufacturing has significantly changed. Not only the components that are being made have changed, but also the approach on how to manufacture those components. Previously passive image-forming optical components (like mirrors and lenses) and manufacturing methods for those products were the main focus of this market. Now we have active elements, such as optical sensors and lasers. This has created a shift from craftsman-based manufacturing to mass production. Much of today’s work is being done by automated production lines. For example, more than 100 million diode lasers are being produced each year. These inexpensive diode lasers have changed the landscape for displays, laser printers, and many other products.
Optical components in all shapes and sizes
Optical components are available in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Some lenses are made by a single piece of glass, others are manufactured from optical polymers. Optical components can have all kinds of surfaces, from aspheric to cylindrical, to freeform.
Optical components fit in one of two groups:
- Reflectives (mirrors and reflectors)
- Transmissives (lenses, filters, windows, prisms, beam splitters, etc.)
And are available in all shapes and sizes:
The best-form lens is the one that minimizes spherical aberration in an optical system and is dependent upon the index of refraction of the lens material and the ratio of the object and image distances in the optical system. For example, an off-the-shelf planoconvex lens, with the convex side facing an infinite conjugate, will perform as well as a customized best-form lens, but the off-the-shelf lens will of course be many times cheaper.
When choosing a lens for unit magnification a symmetric biconvex lens is best-form, this is partly due to distortion and chromatic aberration, which will negate each other. This happens regardless of wavelength or material index.
Optical components manufacturing
Generally speaking, manufacturing an optical component starts with grinding a glass blank. Next, the lens is being polished to its final form. This can be done by rotating and rubbing the lens surface against the desired surface shape. The lens will then be tested to confirm the desired shape and function. The final shape must have the best form for the required precision and must meet the specs. The lens must meet requirements for surface quality and accuracy of dimensions.
Of course, there are many other ways of optical component manufacturing available. At Addoptics, we use our proprietary technology; a combination of additive manufacturing and vacuum casting. This enables us to manufacture series of custom optical components with even the most complex surface shapes.
Low-volume manufacturing of optical components
There is a high demand for low-volume, high-performance specialized optics. Buyers of such products are mostly government and the Department of Defense. Nonetheless, many applications require high-value optics. Off-the-shelf optics are mostly not the best solution. This is one of the reasons why low-volume, specialized optics continue to see an increase in demand. The low volume of demand for such specialty items, even including commercial applications, is more often than not too small to ensure the necessary development of fabrication techniques.
Challenges for low-volume optical components manufacturing
The most challenging technical barriers for low-volume manufacturing of optical components are:
- Long lead times
- High upfront investments for tooling required
High volume manufacturing of optical components
When compared to low-volume manufacturing different methods are being used for mass manufacturing of optics and lenses. These manufacturing methods each have their technical challenges to overcome. Some optics can easily be produced in bulk using computer-controlled grinding and polishing machines, other optical components require a different approach. High-volume manufacturing technologies seem similar to those used in the electronics industry. It is no wonder that the electronics and optics industries are growing more integrated.
Being able to manufacture a crucial optical component may be key for a strong position in the optics market. Especially considering that high-volume optical components tend to have a lower profit margin when compared to specialty optics.
Challenges for high-volume optical components manufacturing
The main obstacles for high volume manufacturing of optical components include:
- Integrated design, manufacturing, testing, and assembling for active optical components.
- Development of manufacturing methods for active and passive optical components, required for integrated optoelectronic and optomechanical systems.
Custom optical components manufacturing
Are you in need of custom optical components? With our unique technology, we can produce low-volume custom optics, like freeform optics, for an affordable price. If you are interested in our capabilities, reach out to us to discuss your project.