Optics fabrication: Developments & Challenges

by | Jun 12, 2021 | Optics manufacturing & prototyping

In this article, we will take a closer look at the developments, challenges, and expectations within the optics industry.

The evolution of optics fabrication

The optics industry has changed quite a bit and continues to do so. Let’s take a closer look at how demand for freeform optics continues to grow and how rapid prototyping will continue to change the approach to optics manufacturing.

 

Freeform optics

Due to new manufacturing methods, freeform optics become increasingly cost-effective to manufacture. This enables optics designers to research novel products and incorporate freeform surfaces in optical systems. Freeform optics can increase an optical system’s performance, while at the same time reducing the size of the optical system. Freeform optics are currently mostly being used in the medical, automotive, defense, and aerospace markets. The surge of freeform optics is related to advances in CAM manufacturing (Computer-Aided Manufacturing). Will we see the performance of freeform optics increase, while costs of freeform optics go down? If so, that could drive the adaptation of freeform surfaces to the mainstream.

 

Rapid prototyping & innovation

The shorter your product’s time to market, the easier it becomes to innovate and beat your competitors. One of the catalysts of change is speed and access to information. This helps to bring innovations to market faster as ideas can be combined more easily. Rapid prototyping of optics helps you to iterate and optimize your product in the shortest timeframe possible while speeding up your time to market. We expect to see the shortening of lead times to become an increasingly important factor in the optics industry.

 

Challenges within the fields of optics

Of course, it is not only developments and evolution within the optics industry. The world of optics fabrication has encountered new challenges as well.

Can we keep up with industry growth?

Another challenge within the optics industry is where and how to find technicians and optical engineers. The optics industry continues to grow, but can the supply of technicians and engineers keep up the pace? Finding enough qualified engineers might become a challenge in the years ahead.

 

High demand, shorter lead times

Demand for (custom) optics is high. This has forced some companies to focus on shortening their lead times and delivery, instead of pricing. As mentioned earlier; if you can bring your product to market faster you can gain an advantage over your competitors, which is a huge deal now with such high demand for custom optics. Can companies keep up with shorter lead times and high demand?

 

The challenge of freeform optics manufacturing

As discussed earlier there has been a huge growth in demand for custom freeform optics. However, freeform surfaces are still quite hard to manufacture. Computer-Assisted Manufacturing (CAM) tools originated from the metalworking industry and are thus very different from optics fabrication tools. However, custom software for freeform optics manufacturing does exist and will continue to become more mainstream as more and more companies make use of freeform optics.

 

Optics fabrication: design challenges

The last challenge we have to face in the optics industry is related to optics design. Optical designers have to balance between costs and optimal performance. This can be a hard task, especially since there are a lot of variables to take into account. When searching for an optics prototyping- or manufacturing company be sure to consider the right material, wavelength, and additional requirements (like coatings and optomechanical properties) for your project. Finding the right balance between costs and performance is a challenge that we expect will persist in the field of optics.

 

The future of optics fabrication

What will the future of the optics industry be like? Let’s take a closer look at some expectations for the future of optics, like optical systems becoming more compact, augmented reality, and the integration of optics and photonics.

 

Will optics continue to get smaller?

Optical systems continue to become more compact. At the same time performance remains on par (or even better) when compared to their larger counterparts. Will we be seeing a continual trend of optical systems becoming smaller and more compact?

 

The possibilities of augmented Reality

Another role for optics is within the realm of AR (Augmented Reality). Expectations surrounding this technology are high. AR could potentially change the way manufacturing companies perform their tasks. It could help workers to perform their tasks more accurately and efficiently. AR-systems could give instructions on handheld devices to make tasks more efficient. Other benefits of augmented reality for business include reduced task time, improved task accuracy, and data collection, which could lead to improved collaboration.

 

Importance of photonics and optics

Cameras document a large part of our daily lives. The military relies heavily on lasers and other optical systems. Energy needs are growing and optics can play a role. Optical and photonic systems are so common in our daily lives that we seem to take them for granted. It is to be expected that the role of optics and photonics will continue to grow in the coming years. We expect better imaging, higher power, and reduced costs, while at the same time seeing an increase in applications for optics and photonics.

 

Ready for the next step in optics fabrication?

Addoptics is powering breakthroughs, for an affordable price. With our unique manufacturing method, you can manufacture high-performance custom optics within only a couple of working days. You simply design it, we manufacture it. Whether you need some initial optical prototypes or series production, our technology is up for the task. Our technology can manufacture even the smallest optics, or the largest, depending upon your requirements. Even complex shapes, like freeform surfaces, can be manufactured cost-effectively. Our material is heat- and UV-resistant, as all (prototype) polymer optics should be.

Ready for the next step? Reach out to us to discuss your project.