The joint BMBF project "3DOptics" - set up of a value-added chain for the cost-effective, flexible fabrication of geometrically demanding glass micro-optics.

Current trends in the development of optical technologies are leading to an increased demand for high-precision optical components for imaging and lighting applications. Demanding optical micro-components whose optical functionality permits miniaturization and/or significant increases in imaging quality are classically used especially in measurement technology. But more and more often they can now be found in new, quickly growing market segments such as in cameras in cell phones, optical measurement systems in automobiles, or optical storage media in information technology.

High-tech applications require high precision, but simultaneously reproducibility, cost-effectiveness, and complexity of the components produced. Due to the strict optical requirements, glass is the only possible material. The fabrication of micro-optics of suitably high quality, however, is nowadays often still too costly for definite applications. This is due to the costly grinding and polishing processes needed to produce optical components with high precision. Precision molding offers a new method allowing even large quantities to be made of glass in high quality.

Development work in precision molding has been intensively supported in Japan since the 70's. Extensive efforts in ultra-precision tool making were made in parallel. Low-binder hard metals with fine grains proved to be the most suitable material. These were coated after UP machining in order to obtain longer tool life. This permitted the Japanese optical industry to establish a complete supply chain for the manufacture of ultra-precision tools. In combination with press technology, therefore, precision molding is an established process in Asia.

Recently, efforts to establish the technology of precision molding in Germany have been increased. Since Japanese system builder Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. has offered precision molding machines commercially in this country for several years, the current project is to provide powerful tool making that can supply the necessary ultra-precision molding inserts on a timely basis.
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