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The opti­cal indus­try is on the verge of a revo­lu­tio­nary change.

Over the cen­tu­ries, the basic set­ting of opti­cal sys­tems – sym­me­tri­cal linear opti­cal path – in telesco­pes and micro­sco­pes has been con­sis­tent. Only mini­mal impro­ve­ments were rea­li­sed due to new mate­ri­als or updated tech­no­lo­gies. For the last 20 years the num­ber of asphe­res in opti­cal sys­tems increased but the assem­bly of free form com­pon­ents is only evol­ving since the last few years. Advan­ced design and model­ling tools along with more pre­cise pro­duc­tion and mea­su­re­ment methods on the macro and micro scale pro­vide the oppor­tu­nity to pro­duce opti­cal sys­tems with signi­fi­cantly impro­ved per­for­mance and smal­ler dimen­si­ons. In order to achieve a broad range of pro­ducts with these fea­tures, a syn­chro­ni­zed work of desi­gners, mate­rial and com­po­nent manu­fac­tu­r­ers as well as sys­tem inte­gra­tors is important along the whole value-added chain.

What are freeform optics?

Free­forms are opti­cal sur­faces with an arbi­tra­rily high amount of geo­me­tri­cal degrees of free­dom. Free­form optics unite dif­fe­rent opti­cal func­tions of beam sha­ping, which can usually be achie­ved only by a com­plex com­bi­na­tion of con­ven­tio­nal len­ses. Free­form optics are also able to rea­lise opti­cal func­tions, that can­not be crea­ted with con­ven­tio­nal opti­cal elements.

Where are freeform optics applied?

The advan­ta­ges of free­form sur­faces are used to their full capa­city in sys­tems deman­ding com­pact designs or spe­ci­fic func­tion­a­li­ties. Hence, indus­trial sec­tors like auto­mo­tive and mecha­ni­cal engi­nee­ring, medi­cine and mate­ri­als‹ pro­ces­sing, air­craft con­s­truc­tion and con­su­mer elec­tro­nics, infor­ma­tion tech­no­logy and life sci­en­ces can be addres­sed as markets.


  • varif­o­cals
  • smart­phone cameras
  • head moun­ted devices

What are the advan­ta­ges from a customer’s perspective?

Since a free­form sur­face com­bi­nes the effects of mul­ti­ple len­ses, the num­ber of opti­cal com­pon­ents can be redu­ced. Ther­eby, space, weight and mate­rial are saved. Free­form sur­faces tail­o­red to the requi­re­ments of an appli­ca­tion improve the qua­lity of the opti­cal image enormously.

What are key competencies for developing freeform surfaces?

Due to their varia­ble num­ber of degrees of free­dom, num­e­rous para­me­ters for the cha­rac­te­ri­sa­tion of free­form sur­faces are requi­red. The miss­ing sym­me­try chal­lenges mathe­ma­ti­ci­ans as well as design and manu­fac­tu­ring engi­neers: new design algo­rithms, appro­priate model para­me­ters, cal­cu­la­tion rules and methods for opti­mi­sa­tion have to be found. Even­tually, spe­ci­fic com­pu­ter pro­grams for manu­fac­tu­ring have to be deve­lo­ped. To achieve excel­lent results, pro­cess chains must be syn­chro­nised – from opti­cal and mecha­ni­cal design to manu­fac­tu­ring up to the test­ing of free­form opti­cal sys­tems. Until now, only sepe­rate pro­cess steps with limi­ted pre­cis­ion could be managed.

The Area

Photonics cluster Thuringia

Thu­rin­gia is one of Europe’s lea­ding cen­ters for optics and pho­to­nics – home to 200+ com­pa­nies with 16.000 highly-skil­led workers and vast exper­tise in rese­arch, manu­fac­tu­ring, design, and sys­tem integration.

Bey­ond inter­na­tio­nally renow­ned com­pa­nies like ZEISS and JENOPTIK, the clus­ter includes a large num­ber of SME mem­bers whose pro­ducts and ser­vices play an inte­gral role in the world opto-elec­tro­nics market.