04 Aug Manufacturing Vitally Important Optical Systems Will Look Very Different In The Future

Optical active alignment in action. Photo source; Jabil Optics

Today’s world is increasingly dependent on cameras and the optical systems that drive them. Right now, many of those cameras sit inside of increasingly thinner smartphones like Apple’s iPhone 7+and smaller drones like DJI’s Mavic Pro. The compactness and complexity of these optical systems are understandably driving the industry towards more precise optics. Additionally, in the future, there will be increased demand for more cameras everywhere to gain intelligence from these devices. Cameras enable devices to better understand their task and how to better accomplish it, and the intelligence gained from those cameras is what will enable the next generation of connected devices. However, for many of these new devices to be able to use their cameras effectively, those cameras need to have good enough image quality to allow the devices to recognize objects in their surroundings.

Optical image systems inside of these devices drive much of a camera’s image quality. There are many ways of building optical image systems, albeit some better than others. One of the simplest methods involves manually placing the lens assembly on top of the image sensor with only one axis of alignment. While this process generally costs the least, it also produces many bad assemblies with insufficient image quality—resulting in high scrap rates. These manufacturing methods also don’t allow for complicated imaging systems, like folded optics, which are necessary for very thin devices that need many lenses.

Optical active alignment in action. Photo source; Jabil Optics

The complexity of optical systems will only increase, as the value of the intelligence gained from these various new smart devices increases. OEMs and manufacturers will need to adopt more complex and precise technologies and techniques, in order to manufacture these new devices and the optical image systems inside of them at scale. One of the possible new technologies that could help to solve these manufacturing problems is the use of active alignment. Active alignment works by moving the lenses across the sensor, while constantly adjusting the position to meet the best overall image quality. Since variations in the lenses still exist, active alignment will not produce perfect image quality. However, it will help to produce the best possible image quality within the provided parameters.

One of the most precise active alignment equipment manufacturers out there is Kasalis, a division of Jabil Inc. Optics. Kasalis’s active alignment technology has six degrees of freedom. This capability allows it to move the lenses in virtually any direction, as they receive feedback from the image sensor about image sharpness. This, in turn, allows for very precisely calibrated optical image systems that can easily fit within a product’s acceptable image quality requirements—reducing the number of modules scrapped due to poor image quality. If you want to learn more about active alignment we wrote a deep-dive on it here.