We originally wrote this document in 2021 to highlight the challenges that optical manufactures are facing. Now, two years later, Cambridge Viscosity has again looked at the industry and identified some of the most critical challenges faced by optical lens manufacturers.
In this 3-part series, Cambridge Viscosity explores three critical challenges faced by optical lens manufacturers in 2023. You can access the complete pdf here.
Cambridge Viscosity has identified three critical challenges that complicate the operations of optics manufacturers and threaten their profitability. These challenges are driven by a variety of factors, including changes in market demand, rising costs, and environmental concerns.
Over the last three years, the demand for protective safety eyewear has accelerated tremendously, and three years after the start of the Covid pandemic, hospitals and medical facilities continue to order eye protection and face shields. Manufacturers have increased their capacity to produce optical safety equipment in response to the demand for PPE from laboratories and hospitals. Demand for eyeglasses has also increased, driven by the suggestion that glasses help people avoid touching their faces, and that corrective lenses or sunglasses could add an extra layer of protection from airborne droplets.
In addition to increased demand, manufacturers are also faced with the increasing cost of raw materials and the emergence of new technologies like AR and smart goggles.
CHALLENGE #1: Increasing demand for high-performance coatings
The demand for high-performance optical coatings is driven by industries like aerospace, medical equipment, gaming, scientific research, and defense. These markets require coatings that can withstand extreme temperatures, high humidity, and other harsh environments. Consider the different optimal performances of ski googles versus scuba diving masks or a motorcycle helmet visor. They are all used under very different harsh conditions. Meeting these requirements can be challenging for manufacturers because they need to develop coatings that meet the specific needs of each application while maintaining the desired optical properties. These properties include:
Enhanced optical properties:
High-performance optical coatings can improve the transmission, reflection, and absorption properties of optical systems—which can improve performance and functionality by increasing efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and minimizing the amount of unwanted light or heat that is absorbed.
Protection from harsh environmental conditions:
Industrial applications in manufacturing environments, such as bar code readers and optical encoders, often require systems to operate in harsh environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, humidity, and corrosive environments. High-performance optical coatings can protect optical systems from these harsh conditions by providing a barrier that resists damage and degradation over time.
High-performance optical coatings are designed to withstand wear and maintain their optical properties over extended periods of use. This makes them ideal for use in industrial applications where optical systems are subject to frequent use and exposure to harsh environments such as welding operations and other industries requiring safety-rated protection.
High-performance optical coatings can be customized to meet the specific needs of different industrial applications. For example, coatings can be designed to work optimally in certain wavelengths of light to minimize reflection or absorption in specific environments, or to prevent harmful light radiation. This customization can improve the performance and functionality of optical systems in specific industrial applications.
The Role of Viscometers in Supporting the Process
Viscometers can be used to optimize the coating process by providing real-time measurements of the viscosity of the coating material. This can help manufacturers adjust the process to maintain consistent viscosity.
Managing Coating Thickness
Keeping the thickness of a coating within specification is a major concern of optical lens manufacturers. The thickness of the coating is related to the amount of solids within the fluid. A surplus of solids means the coating is too thick, and not enough solids means it is too thin, and the result is a quality deviation—and a likely trip to the scrap pile. Viscometers maintain the appropriate solids level. The goal of the viscometer isn’t actually to maintain the viscosity per se—it is actually used to maintain the solids level in the coating material.