Polymer Optics 101

by | Mar 31, 2022 | News Snippets, Optics explained

Addoptics at work

Introduction to Polymer

Polymer, one of the most used materials worldwide and exists commonly in everyday life is also a great alternative to glass materials for optical components. Many up and coming industries are incorporating polymer as their main optical components. 

Polymer optics is a great solution for complex optical designs, and can be used majority of common optical components such as lens arrays, Fresnel lenses, micro optics, spherical & aspherical and freeform optics. 

Commonly, polymer has a refractive index between 1,3 and 1,6; Addoptics’ optics have a refractive index of 1,544 @ 650Nm. 

But why are polymer optics used?

Polymer optics have been utilised within many industries which need advanced optical components such as aerospace, illumination, machine vision and most recently in the rise of AR/VR technologies. 

In some cases glass optics are preferred as they have a higher optical quality, which keeps glass optics popular despite the higher costs compared to polymer materials. However, glass optics are less ductile due the their manufacturing process most commonly being injection moulding or other traditional methods; limiting the design complexity. With polymer optics, and especially with Addoptics’ capabilities, the design abilities are greatly higher which allows for freeform, aspheric and other complex optical designs. 

The fabrication of lightweight components is better suited for polymer optics due to the low density of the material. Applications such as drones, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and some medical devices require a lighter optical material.

However a downside of polymer compared to glass is that glass has a higher temperature resistance; therefore for applications which require high temperatures, such as concentrated photovoltaic, glass is preferred. However, our material can be used at an operating temperature of 90°C. 

When looking at the benefits, along with the 10%-50% faster manufacturing process and ductile rate; many have already begun working with polymer optics to improve their own products. 

Coatings

With polymer optics, coatings are easily applied to offer additional options. The coatings add mechanical properties and the optical performance is enhanced. For example, by adding Highly Reflective (HR) coatings, the optical is able to reflect lasers and other light sources. Anti-Reflective  (AR) coatings on the other side do the opposite, and refuses reflection and improves the efficiency of the component. A downside of polymer optics is that they can be sensitive to scratches, but adding Scratch – proof AR coatings can help increase durability for specific, sensitive applications.

Designing using Polymer with Addoptics

Addoptics has mastered a 3D printing and replication manufacturing process of polymer optics, being able to get your optics shipped within 6 days. Find out more about our capabilities or get in touch with us to discuss your design possibilities working with polymer. 

We are always happy to help.