The joint BMBF project "3DOptics" - set up of a value-added chain for the cost-effective, flexible fabrication of geometrically demanding glass micro-optics.

Current trends in the development of optical technologies are leading to an increased demand for high-precision optical components for imaging and lighting applications. Demanding optical micro-components whose optical functionality permits miniaturization and/or significant increases in imaging quality are classically used especially in measurement technology. But more and more often they can now be found in new, quickly growing market segments such as in cameras in cell phones, optical measurement systems in automobiles, or optical storage media in information technology.

High-tech applications require high precision, but simultaneously reproducibility, cost-effectiveness, and complexity of the components produced. Due to the strict optical requirements, glass is the only possible material. The fabrication of micro-optics of suitably high quality, however, is nowadays often still too costly for definite applications. This is due to the costly grinding and polishing processes needed to produce optical components with high precision. Precision molding offers a new method allowing even large quantities to be made of glass in high quality.

Development work in precision molding has been intensively supported in Japan since the 70's. Extensive efforts in ultra-precision tool making were made in parallel. Low-binder hard metals with fine grains proved to be the most suitable material. These were coated after UP machining in order to obtain longer tool life. This permitted the Japanese optical industry to establish a complete supply chain for the manufacture of ultra-precision tools. In combination with press technology, therefore, precision molding is an established process in Asia.

Recently, efforts to establish the technology of precision molding in Germany have been increased. Since Japanese system builder Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. has offered precision molding machines commercially in this country for several years, the current project is to provide powerful tool making that can supply the necessary ultra-precision molding inserts on a timely basis.
Das 3DOptics Konsortium besteht aus 8 Partnern und versucht gemeinsam den Anwendungsraum des Präzisionsblankpressens zu erweitern und an zukünftige Anforderungen anzupassen.
3DOptics Konsortium
3DOptics Simulation von Formfehlerursachen beim Ultrapräzisionsschleifen von nicht-rotationssymmetrischen Werkzeugen
3DOptics Formfehler-Simulation
The joint project "3DOptics", part of the BMBF framework concept "Research for Tomorrow's Production", is providing a contribution to the replicative production of complex optical components. By qualifying the entire value-added chain for precision molding, Germany can take its place in the world market as a competitive production location for complex optical components. Only the crucial ongoing development of the process steps described and their integration in high-wage countries will efficiently open the market for molded glass optics. The high potential for applications of such optics is thus the underlying support for the usefulness of the 3DOptics research project.

Next project meeting
18M project meeting on August 12, 2009 in Horb at the offices of Ceratizit.

Project goals and approach
The overall goal of the 3DOptics program is to establish the entire value-added chain for the manufacture of micro-optics ? from optical design through tool making including material preparation and coating development, along with molding and subsequent optical qualification. Particular focus will be placed on the interfaces between the individual links in the value-added chain.

The program is intended to support the economic production of micro-optics in large quantities in Germany in order to be able to supply markets in the growth industries of medical technology, laser technology, and communication technology in the future, but also in established industries like the automotive industry. The focus of the project is the technology of precision molding. This procedure can be used for the process-reliable and highly form-accurate manufacture of demanding 3D geometries ? strongly curved, with a high numeric aperture, or free-form surfaces. The focus of the investigation is research and development work in high-precision tool making throughout the entire value-added chain ? from CAD/CAM through substrate manufacture, machining and coating, to the standardization of tool components. The goal is to qualify the supplier structure needed for precision molding previously missing in Germany. Establishing a supplier chain for the fabrication of ultra-precision machined mold inserts and tools will complete the crucial step in spreading the precision molding in Germany. This will result in immediate utilization options and a clear competitive advantage over European and especially Asian competitors.

The basis for working in this joint project is an integrated, holistic approach that results from the products examined and the derived production concept. Holistic, because it takes all relevant elements of the value creation chain into consideration: optical design - tool making including substrate preparation, machining, and coating - optical production including precision molding and glass development - optical qualification. Integrated, because it especially handles the interactions between these links and involves the comprehensive display of the associated "CAx data chain".
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