Growing an optics
business by offering services
Precision optics touch our
lives in more ways than most of us
know. These optics—large or small—
continue to be produced by a relatively
small industry that has changed rela-
tively little over the past four centuries.
Except in the case of lenses for cell
phone cameras and other consumer
applications where high volumes and
price point require the use of techniques such as molding, precision optics con-
tinue to be made by grinding and polishing glass and other materials to chal-
lenging levels of figure and finish.
The introduction of computer numerical control (CNC) machines and other innovative technologies has advanced the precision optics manufacturing
process. For instance, with the introduction of magnetorheological finishing
(MRF) by QED Technologies in 1996, the finishing of precision optics became
deterministic and predictable, and optics manufacturers could rely on shorter
processing times and higher yields with consistent quality. QED’s subsequent
introduction of the Subaperture Stitching Interferometer (SSI) in 2002
further enabled the manufacturing process by allowing manufacturers
to see what they were polishing and use that information to drive further improvements.
These developments represent some of the watershed moments in precision optics manufacturing history. The manufacturing process became
less focused on the traditional bottleneck, the artisan’s ability to perform
the final finishing step, and more focused on improving the efficiency
and consistency of the pre-finishing process. This allowed precision optics to be manufactured cost-effectively and predictably, and this new-found bandwidth allowed optics manufacturers to broaden their expertise,
add new capabilities, focus on new applications, and win new business.
That said, despite the high value and potential return on investment
these novel CNC machine-based technologies can bring, they still require a significant capital outlay. Companies eager to begin incorporating these technologies into their manufacturing process and gain new expertise are faced with a chicken-and-egg scenario: While you need the
work to warrant the machine purchase, you also need the machine and
know-how to win the work.
Thus, the industry has been divided into those who have these types of
technologies in their toolbox and have the means to expand the breadth
and depth of their offerings, and those who do not and also cannot compete as aggressively for market share. In reviewing this situation, we considered an alternative path to bridge the divide by making our CNC-based technologies, MRF finishing, and SSI metrology, as well as our
engineering know-how, available to the optics manufacturing industry
on a contract basis.
QED has always maintained and staffed a Demonstration Lab to give
Using MRF, a 200 mm collimator lens being polished
corrects for surface figure at QED Optics.