Several recent trends have helped the plastic optics manufacturing industry remain competitive in the United States. In particular, the manufacturing processes for plastic optics have benefited from advances in computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided machining (CAM), mold flow analysis, metrology software and instrumentation, diamond turning practices, optical process engineering, and improvements in the quality and variety of the raw materials used.
For customers planning to incorporate a plastic optical component into a system design, there are advantages to be gained by understanding the project lead time needs of the plastic optic manufacturer along with the manufacturing process. To meet research and development schedules, single-point diamond turning (SPDT) manufacturing processes are now commonly used in the first stage of a project. This phase of prototyping can be done in parallel with the design and build of a plastic injection mold, bringing initial optical samples to the lab in as soon as four weeks.
Prototyping lenses using SPDT technology enables the use of many optical materials that are also used in production molding. Typical choices include the use of cyclo-olefin polymer (COP), acrylic (PMMA), and polystyrene (PS) grades of resin. While certain grades of polycarbonate (PC) are not desirable for SPDT, comparable resins may be used with similar indices of refraction for development purposes.
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