You have an idea that requires the design of a special optical system – imaging or non-imaging. You are particularly concerned with keeping NRE costs down, while achieving and maintaining low-cost high-quality timely results. You know it is extremely important to get optics that will work well while achieving the overall best value. This means getting the right parts and processes at reasonable cost with consistent quality and on-time delivery. Your company has no dedicated optical professional, or they are already fully committed to other projects. Where should you go?
The first step in every design is determining the requirements and writing the specifications. And in many ways this is the most important step. To build a successful project, you need to know what you want to build, why, and how well it must perform. This analytical step is frequently overlooked or neglected. A product with requirements and specifications may succeed or may perhaps fail, but any attempt to build a product without agreed requirements and clear specifications just guarantees failure. We can work with you to ensure the development of clear, concise, realistic requirements and precise, necessary, and achievable specifications for your product. These will be an indispensable reference at every step of your project. The specifications are not static and will likely change as the product concept evolves. Even the requirements may evolve as a result of increased understanding and design validation. We can help you manage this.
We will not promise you unrealistic performance. Unrealistic expectations are often based on poor understanding of basic optical and economical principles and concepts. If something can be built in principle, we will work with you to find a practical solution or a reasonable compromise that fits the budget and objectives you have. Then we'll help you bring it to life through prototyping, testing, and production.
Up front we will discuss with you what we call the design space: in the real world, every design is a compromise, but we will determine and discuss with you the cost of this compromise in terms of expenditure, time to market, and risk. For example, what would happen if your system only requires an f/5 lens? Or what would it take to build an f/3 system? Do you really need such a high resolution? Across the whole field? Maybe the system can have lower resolution and not require aspheric components, so the price can be one third as much? Maybe smart software or mechanical design can reduce tolerance requirements and assembly costs?
We understand the uncertainties of the research and development process, and we will help you navigate your design ship through the narrow straits avoiding the dangerous rapids. We've been there. We will be your partner at every step to catch problems early when they cost much less to fix. Mistakes happen… but they don't have to be fatal!
We believe in the hacker/maker philosophy: conceive of a broad range of solutions, build prototypes quickly, test them aggressively, and iterate often so that the best solution emerges soon. We don't like the strict waterfall approach by the end of which you may well have a design which meets your original specifications but which doesn't actually achieve what you really require.
We can design optical systems to specified requirements, and create the model to ensure that the design meets its system-level performance goals. We will discuss it with you and with your mechanical, software, and electronics teams to ensure every project stage goes smoothly. If you lack capabilities or resources in any domain, we can provide effective coverage for that gap via managed collaboration with our own experts and our extensive network of proven vendors and advisors.
No optical system can be built perfectly. No optical surface can be manufactured perfectly. No optical part can be aligned perfectly. That is what our design addresses: not just a lens design, but the whole system fabrication and alignment tolerances as well. The tolerance analysis provides “as built” performance estimation versus manufacturing cost trade-offs. Our analysis will give you confidence that the as-built optical system will meet or exceed all your requirements.
The optical design is used to obtain vendor quotes. We like to start working with vendors at early stages of the project. We find that identifying potential vendors and learning their manufacturing capabilities is the only practical way to keep the design process smooth and prevent nasty surprises down the line.
We will discuss the choice of optical materials with you and your vendors to ensure availability, lead-times, and molding/cutting/polishing availability. When possible, we will adjust optical designs to fit the manufacturer's available tooling to save money – new tooling can be very costly.
In our experience, the best production approach is to give the optical system fabrication, assembly, and testing to the vendor who is best capable of supplying completed products and able to provide accurate and complete testing and certification. Good vendors have already invested heavily in process management and quality assurance. They have experienced mechanical, electronic, and software teams capable of designing necessary and sufficient housings, actuators, and sensors. They have well equipped optical testing facilities. This makes a solid case for ordering a complete optical assembly from the right vendor.
But sometimes the chosen vendor can only supply finished optical elements. Or you may need to design and build an assembly in which the optical system is only a small part. In such cases you need help to design your own assembly, alignment, and testing processes and tooling. We can guide or provide the design of housings which support the optics with the required precision, and we can perform tolerance analysis and create assembly and testing procedures. Received optical components have to be inspected to ensure they meet specifications: this incoming quality control should never be skipped. We can help by determining the most efficient parameters for testing, and by writing and standardizing testing procedures and performing statistical analysis.
Practical experience is the key. Over many decades and many projects we have absorbed the lessons from great successes and, on occasion, failures. We've taken projects all the way from back-of-envelope sketches through to commercial availability. Along the way we've built everything from quick test rigs through complex assemblies and custom labs. Now let us ensure your project succeeds by providing guidance and engineering with the proven benefits of a systems-engineering approach, and the flexibility and enthusiasm of a build-it/try-it/refine-it maker/hacker culture.