You are on page 1of 6

Plastic Optics

Precision Injection Molding

How to Make Polymer Optics for High Volume
and High Precision Applications

  Whether it is a cellphone camera • Low material cost

The Author
or a head-up display – polymer optics is Optical polymers are within a range of
at the heart of many high tech devices 5…30 €/kg. Compared to optical glass
and the market demand for such pre­ this makes a notable difference. Ralf Mayer
cision optical components is growing • Plain and fast mass production
Dr.-Ing. Ralf Mayer
year by year. The main application fields Injection molded lenses are finished in
­attended University of
are in the automotive industry, in the one step to optical quality without the
Kaiserslautern and holds
need for additional finishing steps, such
medical field (disposable optics), in sen- a degree in mechani-
as polishing. Compared to glass, the cycle
sor and information technology. Beside cal engineering. In 1997 he received a
times are very low which makes injection
lightweight and economic advantages, doctor´s degree in the fields of thin film
molding suitable for mass production.
polymer optics enables completely new coating and sputtering. After that he
• High degrees of freedom in the design
solutions in optics. The key to all this is worked on the development of high
With injection molding almost every
precision manufacturing. speed scales at Wipotec and than joined
surface shape (e. g. diffractive, freeform,
SiemensVDO where he was responsib-
nano structure) becomes feasible without
le for the optical design of automotive
Basic assessment of Precision extra costs. Hence this process is well sui-
head-up-displays. Today he in charge
­Injection Molding ted for the mass production of deman-
of Viaoptic´s development department.
ding optical elements. Because of this
His main tasks are developing and de-
Injection molding is well known from the advantage glass optics and polymer op-
signing optical systems from scratch for
field of plastics production. The conventi- tics are sometimes combined (e. g. as an
e. g. industrial sensors, LED lighting or
onal injection molding technology is not aspheric field lens) to improve imaging
automotive driver assistance systems like
accurate enough for optical parts produc- quality at reasonable costs.
tion. To achieve the necessary precision, it • Excellent automation possibilities
is necessary to optimize the whole process Modern injection molding machines are
chain. fully automated and computer control-
After several years of continuous deve- led in every parameter. Together with an ●●
lopment, precision injection molding (PIM) autonomous handling system and ad-
Dr.-Ing. Ralf Mayer
became a technology that helps to satisfy vanced process control, it is easy to set Viaoptic GmbH
growing market demands in reasonable pri- up flexible manufacturing cells. These Ludwig Erk Str. 7
ced but highly functional precision optics. cells are capable of running whole pro- 35578 Wetzlar, Germany
Tel.: +49 (0) 6441/9011-35
Table 1 shows the differences in the process cess chains like molding, testing, coating
and the materials between conventional and packaging. Website:
molding and precision injection molding. • Integration of mechanical functionality
Injection molding enables the designer to
incorporate mechanical mounts, like lens
Typical Features of Precision
mounts, snappers and other fixture ele- Typical Part Specifications
­Injection Molding ments together with optical functionality
Today, polymer optical components offer into one part, which reduces the number Due to the manufacturing technology,
a number of unique features. Traditionally, of elements or may increase alignment polymer optical components have certain
they are particularly well suited for large accuracy of optical components. limitations in their dimensions. Precision
production lots and low costs. But mean- injection molding allows for a lens diame-
while they also offer some features, where ter from 1 mm to 100 mm, lens thickness
Applications of PIM
they are clearly superior to glass optics: in- may be chosen between 1 and 30 mm.
tegrated optical or mechanical functionality Precision injection molding is developed The diameter to thickness ratio should be
is one example. The most important fea- to enable an economic mass production of in the range of 1:1 and 5:1. The optically
tures will be discussed in the following. precise spherical, aspheric, diffractive and used area may then be between 1 mm² and
• Low weight freeform plastic lenses and mirrors with 50.000 mm². Technical tolerances for poly-
Optical polymers have approximate- high accuracy and good to excellent opti- mer optics are summarized in table 2.
ly half the density of glass. Hence low cal surface finishing. Figure 1 briefly shows In general one should keep in mind that
weight designs are possible. possible application fields. feasible tolerances are directly dependent

46  Optik & Photonik  December 2007  No. 4 © 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
Plastic Optics

on material properties and parts terial specific feature shrinkage is

geometry. The polymer material dependent on process parame- Automotive
• Rain Sensor
also defines the optical proper- ters and typically exhibits some • Head-Up Displays
• Steering Angle Sensors
ties. Today, the materials allow batch to batch variations. Hence Laser Technology Life-Science
for refraction with n = 1.49…1.7 shrinkage prediction in injection •

Laser Lenses/Optics
Beam Shaping

Scale Magnifiers
(1.9). The Abbe numbers can be molding is still a quite challenging • Syringes

between 28 and 58. problem and practical experience

with material-behavior is irrepla- Logistics Illumination
• Scannersystems • Motion Detectors
ceable. To improve the shrinka- Photosensors Collimation Optics
Limitations of
• •

• Optical Sensors Reflectors

ge behavior inorganic fillers like

Polymer Optics TiO nano particles are commonly

• Handy-Lenses
• Scanner Optics
Due to material properties, po- used. Generalized: dimensional • Optical Storage
lymer optics are more sensitive stability improves with a higher
to changes in the environmental glass transition temperature and Figure 1: Applications for precision polymer optics.
conditions. Typical effects are: larger difference between service
shrinkage, warpage (during pro- temperature and glass transition Part
cessing), thermal and mechanical temperature. Design
stress, water absorption, heat de- Because of the above reasons
flection. The parts service condi- VIAOPTIC prefer materials like Design Review

part design / tool design revision

tions are usually more important COCs or COPs due to their low not feasible
when dealing with polymer optics water take up and their tempe- feasible
than with glass optics. Depending rature stability. Polycarbonate is
Tool Design
on the expected performance, not well suited for high precision
not feasible
the temperature range can be applications because the relatively
between – 40 °C and 150 °C. Addi- high water take up causes swelling
Tool Making
tionally, chemical impact (even in which will spoil high tolerances
residual concentrations) may have immediately. Additional water va-
a large impact on the lifetime of por from the part is not very wel- Non-Optical Mold-Parts Optical Mold-Parts

polymer optics. come during thin film processes.

For further reading on the me- HSC, Polishing,
EDM, HSC Diamond Turning
chanisms of dimensional instability
Polymer Materials
in polymers appropriate literature
The material properties are re- such as [1] is recommended. Quality Check Quality Check

tool correction by „pre“ shaping

sponsible for process capability
n. ok ok Tool ok n. ok
and manufacturability of the pro- Assembly
Premises for Precision
ducts and hence for feasible tole-
rances. There are a wide variety of
Injection Molding
polymers available today. But if it Looking at injection molding pro- Identifying Stable Process
comes to precision injection mol- cesses one can realize five different Parameters (cpk-Analysis)

ding of optical components only a fields which are very important for
few are left, especially if the parts precision injection molding. Quality Check:
Molded Part
are to be coated with dielectric
n. ok
anti-reflex coatings.
Expert Knowledge ok
Important material properties
are e. g. viscosity, melt tempera- To achieve the tightest part to- Controlled Series Production
ture, glass transition temperature, lerances one has to accept that
Figure 2: From Design to part: High Precision injection mol-
water take up and gas absorption. precision injection molding alrea- ding starts with parts design and ends with the molded part.
The latter are important parame- dy starts at the optical design of
ters for thin film coating processes the parts. Further it is essential to
on polymers, because those coa- consider the optical design, the n-dependency
ting processes are commonly run- mechanical design, the mold-pro-
ning with process temperatures cess development and the mold- R-dependency

above 80 °C and require a water machine development as parts

and residual gas free atmosphere. of an integrated design process
Mold shrinkage is another im- with very strong interactions. You
portant measure of a given ma- cannot do one without the other!
terial to accurately replicate fine Hence it is necessary to employ
product features and meet tight highly skilled and experienced
dimensional tolerances. Amor- design engineers who can under-
phous polymers typically exhi- stand and handle tasks like optical
bit lower shrinkage (0.3…0.8 %) design, part design, tool design,
than semi-crystalline polymers finite element analysis and mold Figure 3: Comparison of the impact of n-index tolerances to
(1…3 %) [1]. Besides being a ma- flow analysis. dimensional tolerances.

© 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim  47

Plastic Optics

Figure 4: MOORE Nanotech 250UPL

diamond turning a freeform lens.

Even if most operations during injec-

tion molding processes are fully automa-
ted and controlled by computers today,
the presence of skilled and well educated
operators is still essential. High precision
injection molding processes are operating
on the edge of the capabilities of injection
molding technology. Typical are tide pro-
cess windows and therefore a demand for
continuous monitoring and manual adjus-
ting critical process parameters and that is
where the human factor is very important.
Figure 5: Worn out diamond tool tip.

Design Experience
To obtain maximum part performance with Furthermore, one has to keep in mind that the achievable product quality. Product to-
minimum parts tolerances the part design is the refractive index of polymer lenses is less lerances in the micron range require tools
very important (see figure 2). The part de- accurate than with glass lenses. From our which are dimensionally stable within the sub
sign decides about the feasible tolerances. experience you cannot expect more than micron range. There is no common wisdom
Some common design rules from our ex- the 2nd to 3rd decimal of stability of the re- in tool design and there are a lot of success-
perience are: fractive index under standard environmen- ful tool concepts but there is one important
• preferably constant wall thickness in parts tal conditions. Let’s look at the sensitivity of thing to mention: Dimensional stable tools
• no wall-thickness leaps, smooth transi- some lens parameters in comparison: require a high rigid design and adequate
tions The focal length of a spherical lens with material choices with an adequate heat tre-
• keep a reasonable minimum wall thick- 2 radii R ½, center-thickness d and refrac- ating. The importance of the latter is often
ness (material dependent) tive index n is defined by: neglected. Hardened steel for example tends
• no holes etc. near optical active surfaces to change its dimensions in the sub micron
because of resulting flow lines f = (n – 1) · (1 – 1 + (n – 1) · d and micron range even without load if the
• avoid material accumulations, they are R1 R n · R1 · R2 microstructure change during austenite to
prone to sinkmarks. martensite transition is not totally finished or
One can easily derive the sensitivities ∆ to stopped, by e. g. cryogenic treatment [2].
radius changes thickness changes and re-
The Company fractive index changes from:
Tool Shop Capabilities
∆n = ∂f , ∆R = ∂f , ∆d = ∂f
Viaoptic GmbH ∂n ∂R ∂d Besides design considerations the tooling is
Wetzlar, Germany a very important part of injection mold pro-
Looking for example at a lens with n = 1.5, cesses. The molds have to be machined and
VIAOPTIC GmbH is a professional part- d = 3 mm, R1 = –R2 = 10 mm the nominal assembled to very tight tolerances because
ner in the development and manufac- calculated focal length will be 10.52 mm. what you give away here in terms of tole-
ture of optical components, mechanical Graphically one will get the dependencies rances is hardly retrieved later in the injec-
parts and sub-assemblies made of plas- shown in figure 3 for a parameters change tion mold process and/or will for sure further
tic material, with advanced competence from –1 %…to 1 %. narrow the process window. Important for
in: Selection of materials, Design of in- From Figure 3 one may obtain a diffe- precision tool making is a temperature con-
dividual parts and sub-assemblies, Pro- rent significance of mechanical tolerances trolled environment. From technology point
totyping, Tool design, Tool fabrication, and it should be clear that it is worthwhile of view precise high speed multi axis milling
Manufacturing with injection moulding, to think twice about tight geometrical to- machines are thought to replace EDM tech-
Sub-assembly Fabrication and quality lerances in a design, which may become a nology more and more. But from our point
assurance. problem during injection molding. of view you need both in very high qualities. Tool design is of the same importance When it comes to the quality of the optical
as part design. The tool directly defines mold inserts VIAOPTIC relies on a MOORE

48  Optik & Photonik  December 2007  No. 4 © 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Nanotech 250 uPL (see figure 4) for single (see figure 5) in the cutting edge will be
point diamond turning for ready to use tool seen later on the molded part. Meet us at
inserts (without the need for polishing). For high precision machining you need
A big disadvantage of diamond turning high precision data formats. *.iges and
Booth 6146
today is that there is no process to cut direct- *.step files proved not to be accurate en-
ly into ferrous materials, such as steel, that ough (figure 6). This is why the authors use
would wear out the diamond pretty fast. You direct surface descriptions, e. g. using the
always need a nickel coating on the steel in- mathematical polynomial of if that is not
serts which may be an additional risk in feasible NurBS.
terms of durability. Currently VIAOPTIC joins
a research project developing a heat treat-
Injection Molding Machinery
ment process for some tool steels to enable
single point diamond turning in optical qua- The injection molding machine is of course Got the need
lity. The initial results look very promising.
The availability of high precision tooling
another important element of the process
chain. Within the machine the polymer
for speed?
machines is only half the truth. The other is melted and reproducibly injected into
part is the cutting/milling tool itself. e. g. for the mold. This requires a precise control the new UsB2000+
single point diamond turning high precisi- of all process temperatures, the displace-
on and accurate grinded monocrystalline ment volume, the injection speed, the enables 1,000 full
tool-tips are needed. At VIAOPTIC we pay cavity-pressure etc. Product quality in the spectra per second
much attention to the surface and edge fi- micron range requires micron precision
nish of this tools. even the tiniest defects machinery!

TABLE 1: Differences in the process and the materials between conventional molding
and precision injection molding.
Process Features Precision Injection Molding (PIM) Conventional Molding
critical phase post filling filling
mold temperature high low
polymer temperature high low
4000 sony 2048-element ILX511 detector
cycle time long short
toshina 3648-element tCd1304Ap detector

packing pressure high medium 3000

intensity (counts)

injection velocity low high


major difficulties sinkmarks, warpage, shrinkage short shots, flash

thin walled parts easy difficult
thick walled parts difficult easy 200 300 400 500 600 700 800
starting Wavelenght (nm)
Material Features Precision Injection Molding (PIM) Conventional Molding
detector sensitivity Comparison
glass transition temperature high medium
water uptake very low NA Features usB2000+
stiffness high NA rohs and Ce compliant
melt viscosity low low Integration time 1 ms to 65 seconds
resolution ~0.3-10.0 nm fWhM
compliance low NA
neW sony ILX511B silicon CCd array
Various gratings (200-1100 nm range)
TABLE 2: Typical tolerances of optical components made of polymers. 8 digital user-programmable GpIos
Low Cost Quality Standard Quality State of the Art User interface software spectrasuite
Focal Length +/– 3…5 % +/– 2…3 % +/– 0.5…1 %
Curvature error +/– 3…5 % +/– 2…3 % +/– 0.5…1 %
Irregularities 6…10 2…6 0.5…2
(@ 25 mm diameter) fringes fringes fringes
Geometry error 20…50 µm 5…20 µm 0.5…5 µm
(arbitrary surfaces)
Surface Quality 80/50 60/40 40/20
(scratch/dig) for more information see us at
roughness ra 10…15 nm 5…10 nm 2…5 nm Photonics West - Booth 6146 or
Centering Accuracy +/– 3 min +/– 2 min +/– 1 min
contact our sales team via sales@ or call us at +31
Center Thickness +/– 0.1 mm +/– 0.05 mm +/– 0.01 mm
26 3190500 or +49 711 34 1696 0
Diameter +/– 0.1 mm +/– 0.05 mm +/– 0.01 mm
reproducibility 1…2 % 0.5…1 % 0.3…0.5 %

© 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim 49

Plastic Optics

Common to both processes is the injection

of a ”hot“ polymer melt into a (compared
CAD-Data transfer to machinery via:
to the melt temperature) cold mold cavity.
This will introduce additional internal stress
• *.step x, y, z- NURBS
• *.iges during the cool down and may spoil lenses
• … point cloud Non-Uniform
Rational B-Splines for applications in polarized light [3]. To
overcome this potential show stopper one
may temper lenses, which is practically not
feasible feasible feasible
geometry geometry geometry fea­sible because they will lose their shape,
accuracy accuracy accuracy or to use compression-injection molding
~2…5 µm ~1 µm <1 µm
processes which have some big advantages
= not sufficient! = just ok! = ok! here.
Figure 6: Data formats
Molding processes are very complex with
in brief comparison.
a lot of different (often counteracting) para-
meters and influence factors (see figure 8).

material preparation: dehumidifying, dedusting … Summarizing injection molding process pa-

rameter ranges, some important are:
• Mold temperature: 90 °C up to 170 °C
temp. and humidity-controlled, cleanroom cell

cooling area
• Compound temperature: 180 °C up to
330 °C
• Cycle time: 30 sec to several minutes
Mold Machine

Mold Machine

• Packing pressure: part/material specific

(up to >1000 bar)
• Injection velocity: mold/part/material

The mold process in PIM is a part-specific

process and has to be developed for each
part separately. Process developments are

based on the experience of the process engi-

metrology neers, on smart process evaluation strategies
and statistic process evaluation methods.
Common process strategies can be found in
Figure 7: Manufacturing Cell (schematic). [3] and might serve well as a starting point.
Some important parameters, such as
shrinkage, are not only material specific but
Mandatory for PIM machines is control- Further common requirements for a ”clean“ process and part specific too. In our expe-
ling those parameters within a closed loop. manufacturing cell are: rience they cannot be determined accura-
Furthermore, all process relevant mecha- • thermo controlled environment accor- tely enough for part tolerances in the low
nical movements of the machine should ding to customer‘s specifications micron range without molding trials. Hence
be of highest precision (e. g. parallelism • constant humidity according to customer‘s VIAOPTIC is relying on another strategy for
of mold mounting plates) and all relevant parts specification (water absorption) high precision optical parts (see figure 2).
machine parts of high stability. Due to their • to the highest standard cleaned and First we start designing and building a
drive concept electrically driven injection dried process-air (no condensates) mold tool without taking shrinkage into ac-
molding machines have clear advantages in • local granulate dryers and dedusters count. In a second step we develop an injec-
terms of accuracy and reproducibility and • local granulate degassing processes and tion molding process with the smallest part
should be preferred for PIM. prompt use to part deviations and the widest process
Another important point are the envi- • automated part handling systems: for part window. Then we are checking the molded
ronmental conditions in which the parts are handling during and after injection and parts and “pre” correct the shape of the
molded. For parts with tolerances in the low for packing and measuring parts as well mold. This procedure enables high process
µm range a climate controlled, de-dusted, • special devices to cut sprue without dust stability and high precision as well, but re-
dehumidified environment is mandatory. or debris quires the right equipment in the metrology
This is particularly true if the parts should • as less human interaction as possible and tool shop department and some mathe-
be coated afterwards. The manufacturing matical skills in the design department.
cell should than be set up according to the
Injection Molding Process
customer‘s specification for ”reference-con-
Future Outlook
ditions“. The injection molding processes can be
Because there are different customer spe- classified into two types: conventional in- Precision injection molding paves the way
cifications and because climacontrolling and jection molding and injection-compression for polymer optical components into high
dedusting large areas is expensive, setting up molding. Injection-compression molding is demanding high volume precision applica-
an appropriate manufacturing cell is a good preferred for molding parts with micro struc- tions. Back in the early seventies when VIA-
alternative (see schematic in Figure 7). tures, e. g. lenses with diffractive structures. OPTIC started to produce the first polymer

50  Optik & Photonik  December 2007  No. 4 © 2007 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
CCD Line Scan Cameras
Plastic Optics Applications: 512 to 10 680 pixels, monochrome and color
7 of 1000 CCD line scan cameras with modular
interface concept Analog: RS422
Digital: LVDS
USB 2.0

Machinery Process 3

clamping force injection presure barrel temperature screw torque

tool opening filling velocity material temperature filling velocity
stroke plasticising capacity runner temperature filling time 4

ejector geometry screw torque tool temperature gate pressure

ejector force non-return gate injection temperature tool pressure
barrel size screw stroke and coating? 5

srew geometry speed SK 9170: Gray Scale Line Signal – 0


0 SK 9170: Gray Scale Line Signal – 1
6 255


Windows xp


7 New
VI library for
Tools Material LabVIEW® 8.2

tool wear symmetry molding additives granulate size

tool thermic behavior padding material regenerated
temperature effective area masterbatch, color material
air vent (pressure) type of material hunidity
stability flow length plasticing viscosity
sharp edges
part geometry
temperature glas transition
Laser Line-, Micro Focus- and
Laser Pattern Generators

Figure 8: Parameters for Injection Molding.

optical part for a LEICA camera (a viewfin- Literature

der screen) nobody could imagine what is
[1] Greener, Jehuda; Precision Injection Molding,
possible today. But there is still room for
Hanser 2006
some improvements which I would like to Beam P2 P1
[2] Holden, Frank C.; A Review of Dimensional In- profile
summarize here:
stability in Metals, Memorandum 189, Defense
Wavelength 635 – 980 nm (optional 405 or 1550 nm)
Metals Information Center, 1964 • Line width ≥ 0.008 mm • Laser lines with uniform
Process and Parts Metrology: intensity distribution and constant line width P1 + P2
[3] Bäumer, Stefan (ed.); Handbook of Plastic Op-
• easy to use, reliable and accurate
tics, Wiley-VCH 2005
(< 0.1µm) non-tactile metrology for as-
pheric and freeform surfaces (reflective Fiber Optics
and transparent)
• improvement of in-mold sensor systems polarization maintaining,
for laser beam sources
370 - 1700 nm
Mold Design:
• improvements in mold flow analysis for Laser Beam Coupler
for Singlemode
high precision parts

• easy to use software for mold design/ inclined

fiber coupling axis
mold flow analysis
• high precision diamond cutting of fer-
rous materials D

Polymers: A Laser beam coupler
• temperature stable optical polymers B Laser source D Fiber collimator
C Singlemode fiber (PM) E Microfocus optic
with a larger n and n range
• more accurate and temperature stable
refractive index Laser Sources
• less prone to ”micro cracking“
with fiber optics from Schäfter+Kirchhoff

Mold Machine Design: 1

• high rigidity
• high thermal stability 2
• high mechanical accuracy
• accuracy and repeatability of process pa-
• sensor technology: melt-flow, viscosity,
1 HeNe laser
pressure … 2 DPSS laser
(two fiber system)
• cleanliness, e. g. oil spillage, dust through

3 Diode laser

wear … 405 - 1083 nm


Not shown:

• easy to clean

EC laser, 3

Argon laser, …

Kieler Straße 212 • D-22525 Hamburg / Germany