New Way® Air Bearings has long been proud to support many industries, from automotive testing and healthcare to flexible web handling and semiconductor production. With our proven track record of precision-made products, we felt it was high time that we highlighted what New Way Air Bearings can offer to the optics industry.
An industry that was once mainly composed of suppliers and manufacturers for eyewear and photographic lenses, the optics industry has undergone an explosive growth period. The market cap for fiber optics alone is anticipated to top nine billion dollars by 2025, and this doesn’t even account for more specialized uses, like purpose-built lenses for military use and space exploration.
Even if your market doesn’t hinge upon optical technology, it quite likely relies on it for precision inspection stages that can identify a flawed product at a moment’s notice. If optics are your business, then New Way is here to offer our services.
The Optics Industry Demands Precision, and New Way Is Here to Offer It!
Optical manufacturing rivals precision fields like semiconductor and wafer manufacturing in their unyielding need for exact motion, both for grinding lenses and for inspecting curvature to ensure it meets industry and consumer specifications. Before a lens can be deemed compliant, it must meet several benchmarks for precision, including surface quality and surface finish, as well as manufacturing standards that provide tolerances for center thickness and radius of curvature.
A high-quality lens is manufactured to a tolerance of +/- 0.010mm measured across the center thickness, and the radius of curvature (as measured from the vertex to center of curvature) can be toleranced to as low as +/- 0.01%.
In addition to physical tolerances concerning the dimensioning of a lens itself, prisms and other refracting components are tolerance by the degree to which light is deflected as it passes through them. This tolerance can go as low as a few arcseconds, or 1/3600 of a degree, and is determined by a machine called an autocollimator assembly, which rotates about the surface of the inspected element.
New Way and Optics
With our long and proven track record of supporting precision manufacturing, New Ways’ line of air bearing products is ideally suited to manufacturing and inspecting optical technology.
New Ways’ Linear Slides are one of our hallmark products, pairing a porous carbon air bearing housing with an aluminum guide rail for frictionless, repeatable motion. Linear slides coupled to form an XY gantry would be ideal as the positioning system for an optical grinding machine, enabling smooth and repeatable motion for centering your material to be ground.
Because the linear slides operate on a micro-thin layer of air, vibration and harmonic noise have been effectively eliminated, removing any potential for vibration-induced machining error.
Radial Air Bearings
New Way Radial Bearings are one of our most varied products that support a wide variety of applications. With either a concave or convex pad of porous carbon media, the radial bearing provides smooth rotational motion with zero overshoot or undershoot that might occur from internal bearing momentum, making it the perfect foundation for an optical inspection stage, or to enable rapid x-ray inspection in a medical environment.
Servo Drive Rotary Stages
One of our more recent innovations is the New Way Servo Driven Rotary Stage, an all in one package which combines an air spindle with a slotless and brushless motor. This assembly is controlled by a 1.1-arcsecond precision encoder, capable of 1,184,000 counts/rev. If the rotary stage is precise enough to position some of the world’s largest telescopes, the precision to power optical inspection stages like an autocollimator assembly is surely enough.
As with all precision manufacturing, lens grinding is a highly sensitive process, and even the smallest particle infiltration could prove disastrous to the exacting dimensions and surface finishes your clients require. Luckily for you, New Way’s full line-up of air bearing products has been shown to be ISO Class 3 Cleanroom Compliant. The very porous carbon which allows for the air bearing’s Frictionless Motion®️ also serves as a sub-micron filter, ensuring that your production environment stays particulate free.
The Future of Optics with Air Bearings
The future of optical manufacturing covers everything from eyeglasses and satellites to lasers and microscopes. At the forefront of the optical industry is freeform optics, a new technology comprised of lenses with “no translational or rotational symmetry about axes normal to the mean plane.”
While freeform optics may provide an almost limitless benefit to the miniaturization of imaging systems, they require increasingly more precise machining and metrological processes to create them. For example, 5 Axis CNC are becoming the norm rather than the exception, and uncertainty in positioning is becoming a roadblock towards freeform optics production. Put simply, air bearings are not only the right choice but perhaps the only choice for forward-thinking optical manufacturers.
If you’re interested in finding out what New Way can do for your business, please reach out to us and we’ll be in touch!