Case Studies

3DOptic Shows why ceramic 3D printed optics are the future for satellites and UAV’s

3DOptic Shows why ceramic 3D printed optics are the future for satellites and UAV’s

A full end to end service workflow developed by 3DCeram

Additive manufacturing is a key technology to providing innovative solutions for optimized optical instruments, meeting the growing demand for lightweight optical instrumentation aboard space and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms. To prove the feasibility of its ceramic 3DOPTIC service produced a plane mirror for front-end laser engine (galvo-mirror for high-energy laser application) and optical applications, applying additive manufacturing to the design and manufacturing of the optical substrate.

In general, an optical system needs to satisfy requirements for high stiffness to guarantee the stability of the line of sight, and high strength to withstand the harsh mechanical and thermal environment. It also needs to show high stability to ensure optical performance as a mission component. Traditional manufacturing of optical components, even at the highest technological levels is a lengthy multi-step process that includes labour intensive (even if the workflow is partly automated) procedures for obtaining a starting block of material, milling, grinding, polishing, coating and integrating within the system.

On the other hand, the use of AM presents a number of clear benefits, including weight reduction through a complex geometry, reduction of lead time and much lower material consumption. In addition, the increased freedom in geometry translates in much greatest and easier system integration.

Eye on the prize

3DCERAM’s process allows the production of “custom made” ceramic optical substrates resulting in decreased risk during the manufacturing process. The process developed by 3DCERAM relies on the ability to directly 3D print the 10% of material that is required to make the part, rather than milling away 90% of the ceramic to create a net-shape mirror.

Alumina 3D printed optical mirror, optimized for integration with structural support.

AM enables optical system designers to explore new mirror geometries, including semi-closed back structures, integrated interfaces, and conformal ribs, opening up new perspectives for the next generation of instruments. These will increasingly include increasingly compact solutions with integrated functions (thermal insulation, cooling channels), a limitation of mechanical & thermal interfaces and integration of the optical function as part of the device’s own structure

By implementing the 3DOPTIC solution, manufacturing steps are dramatically reduced from 6 to 3.5: 3D printing, polishing, and coating. The integration of the interface can be done by simple gluing as the device is designed with system integration in mind from the very start.

Consequently, users decrease the risk of issues occurring during manufacturing, while opening up a new way of developing cooled optical systems, active optical systems or freeform optical surfaces. The net shape capabilities AM also improves the quality of the integration/bonding process with increased accuracy.

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