■ Optical Fabrication
envelope at the same performance level.
It also means that an incredibly wide
range of substrate materials can be used,
including metals, glasses, composites and
The creation of nontraditional optical
components has paved the way for some
of the latest technologies we see today,
including wearable or portable optical
devices, visual display or human machine
interface (HMI) systems.
“Due to their strict form factor, lightweight and optical performance requirements to fit [the] human’s body and ergonomic needs, highly asymmetric/aspheric/
become essential components to realize
those post-smartphone devices,” said Dae
Wook Kim, principal investigator of the
Large Optics Fabrication and Testing
(LOFT) group and assistant professor of
optical sciences at College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona.
“Efficient, precise and cost-effective
manufacturing technology for these
future optics is naturally one of the most
essential technologies to deliver those
various conceptual lab-demo devices to
daily human life,” Kim added.
“One can imagine that everyone wants
smaller optics for head-worn displays,”
said Andrew Fisher, an optical engi-
neer at Barrington, N.J.-based Edmund
Optics Inc. “Some challenges that exist
when trying to keep components small
have to do with the edges of these parts.
Most current optics always have a clear
aperture specified that is smaller than the
One way to reduce component size is to
bring the clear aperture right to the edge
of the part, which means that any coat-
ings need to be applied all the way to the
edge of a surface and that there can be no
chamfers or bevels on the corners. Both
of these requirements can prove very
challenging, but are demands to which
the industry is currently responding.
One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the hurdle of mass production of
such nontraditional highly aspheric/freeform optics. With traditional optics, you
1220s: Development of glass.
1222: Broad sheet glass was first produced
in Sussex, England.
1500s: Development of mirrors. The method
of making mirrors out of plate glass was
invented by glassmakers on the island of
Murano in Italy, who covered the back of the
glass with mercury, obtaining near-perfect
and undistorted reflection.
1810: The first known spherometer was
invented by French optician Robert-Aglaé
Cauchoix. They were primarily used by opticians and astronomers to help grind lenses
and curved mirrors. Today’s digital spherometers are a common way to measure the radius
of a surface and are used iteratively when
setting up a process to guarantee the shape
of the part is correct.
1888: Machine-rolled glass was first developed, enabling patterns to be introduced.
Optics Fabrication Timeline: Major Milestones
Photonics Spectra takes a look at some of the highlights
in the history of optics fabrication.
1896: Although first patented in 1883 by
watchmaker John Logan of Waltham, Mass.,
it wasn’t until 13 years later that Frank
Randall, another watchmaker, purchased the
patent and formed a partnership with Francis
Stickney to begin manufacturing dial indicators for general industry.
1904: Also supplying dial indicators was the
German professor Ernst Abbe after establishing the measuring instrument department at
the Zeiss Works. Dial indicators have become
an important tool determining the runout of
an outer diameter as well as assisting with
centering parts on a fixture.
1957: A computer numerical control system
was developed by a collaboration between
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
and the Air Force Materiel Command at the
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the
Aerospace Industries Association. The invention paved the way for automated tools such
as grinding, prepolishing and centering of