Ultra-Precise Additive Manufacturing for Serial Production of Micro-Optics


Photonic Professional GT2: Nanoscribe’s new 3D printer – Images via Nanoscribe

Nanoscribe, a company that specializes in 3D Microprinting, develops GT2 3D printers that enable the production of micro-optical components.

In a context where additive manufacturing is always featured at large scale, Nanoscribe enables applications in mobile or augmented reality devices as well as in healthcare and automotive industries. Those applications require the use of micro-optics as polymer masters for serial production.

This field of AM is particularly challenging as it requires professionals to fit to shape accuracy and low surface roughness required for optimum optical performance. 

The technology of two-photon polymerization (2PP) 

3D printed polymer master of a microlens array

Such type of application is based on the technology of two-photon polymerization (2PP). The manufacturer’s 3D printers have to transform digital models directly into physical objects with submicron resolution. 

An integrated femtosecond laser beam exposes and solidifies photosensitive material only in the tight focal point. Those 3D printers distinguish themselves from current 3D printers offered on the market by their ability to scan the laser focus within a photoresin in a layer-by-layer fashion with layer distances down to the nanometer scale, creating 3D objects with optical surface quality in a single printing step. 

Furthermore, compare to other methods, “Nanoscribe’s 3D printers provide enormous freedom of design and at the same time a very robust chemical process to produce almost any concave or convex surface shape.

The production process of microlens arrays, based on a 2PP printed polymer master and subsequent replication processes. The figure shows the process steps for injection molding.

Compact refractive optics, such as corner cubes with sharp edges, freeform optics and even compound lens systems of two or more stacked lenses are a few examples of applications that have already been produced with this technology.

According to the company those applications often show smooth surfaces with a surface roughness of just a few nanometers and a shape accuracy of less than one micrometer. 

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