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The Future of Additive Manufacturing Technologies for Optical Applications

Sariah Phipps, 2019 Outreach Programs Intern, Brigham Young University – Idaho

On June 12 2019, The Optical Society hosted more than two hundred scientists for the additive manufacturing session of the Design and Fabrication congress. The future of additive manufacturing technologies for optical applications was discussed through a series of questions asked to a panel of optical manufacturers.

Caption: Optical manufacturers panel including (from left to right) Rebecca Dylla-Spears, Joseph Howard, Michael Sweeney, Daniel Werdehausen and Matthew Jenkins

Credit: OSA Communications 

The panel consisted of five guest speakers. First to be introduced was Rebecca Dylla-Spears. As a chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, U.S.A., Dylla-Spears works to manufacture glass optics. Sitting beside her was Joseph Howard, lead optical designer for NASA Goddard’s James Webb Telescope. Howard uses freeform optics to develop larger and faster telescopes with an increased field of view. Next, we were introduced to Michael Sweeney, a scientist at General Dynamics who develops the designs of mirrors with aluminum, titanium, and beryllium. Daniel Werdehausen works with metasurfaces at Carl Zeiss AG while researching new optical materials and elements. Last up, Matthew Jenkins leads the optical engineering group at Raytheon and pushes the rapid design of space devices. The session began with the moderator asking the panel about fabricators and was followed by questions from the audience.

What applications will benefit most from additive manufacturing?

Dylla-Spears commented that additive manufacturing leaves room for light weighting in complex structures.

What features will be added to mirrors using additive manufacturing?

Sweeney responded that we can put small radii in corners and semi-close backs. Additive manufacturing is especially good for metal optics and will allow the addition of metering structure to optics.

How can manufacturers incorporate additive manufacturing into 3-D printing materials?

Werdehausen responded that new 3-D printers with new materials will provide room for additive manufacturing. Jenkins commented that additive manufacturing gives the ability to ring out costs and is more efficient. It allows the possibility of full scale modeling as well.

How may optical design change as a result of additive manufacturing?

Howard responded that additive manufacturing makes a whole realm of surface types reachable. With it, you have the ability to dial in elements to the exact need of a particular design.

How can 3-D printing help enable robotic assembly?

While many of the panelists responded to this question, the answer was all around the same. The idea of eliminating the need for manual assembly is very idealistic. There are still the same amount of fixtures, so using 3-D printing wouldn’t necessarily be an easier approach. You wouldn’t be able to do a quality check as easily nor would you want everything to be in the same material. This, along with other complexities, makes robotic assembly very hard to achieve.

What would it take to get to robotic assembly?

There is no path, really. Transmissive optics would have to be achieved, which is basically impossible. You also have to find a way to eliminate subtractive methods.

If you are using additive manufacturing, how do you detect defects at an early enough stage? For high cycle fatigue, how do you get space qualified materials in the timeframes needed?

You can’t really. You just need to decide if you are willing to take the risk of 3-D printing.

How do you decide what you’re going to develop and what do you want to hear from buyers?

Having an interaction between the design team and the manufacturing team really helps. Often the design team will ask for a design that isn’t very feasible, so having a meeting gets both teams on the same page. It would also be nice for buyers to recognize that more degrees of freedom isn’t necessarily better.


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