Prototyping optics is a set of production processes that can create one-off optical components. In contrast, mass production is a product development and manufacturing stage that commits the design to production.

While producing high volumes at significant speed offers a competitive edge, it’s not appropriate for every project. The costs are high, and it provides less flexibility in the design process. So, which option is better for optical components?

Prototyping Optics

Prototyping optics is a way to test designs with physical models to demonstrate proof-of-concept.1 Manufacturers can test the design elements to move them quickly through the product development process for faster time-to-market.

Most optics customers require custom components and assemblies. Prototyping ensures the optics meet the customer’s requirements and perform in the expected conditions.

Benefits of Prototyping Optics

    • Shorter time-to-market: Prototyping validates proof-of-concept and allows designers to move into production faster for a better time-to-market. This is valuable for gaining an edge over the competition.
    • Reduced manufacturing costs: Prototyping is less expensive than total production and ensures that the design will perform as expected. If a problem arises during the prototyping phase, it can be corrected before high volumes are produced.
    • Design flexibility: Prototyping verifies the design and concept, so it offers a lot of flexibility and freedom to experiment with designs and make alterations. This would not be cost-effective in the mass production stage.
    • Lower risk: Manufacturers use prototyping to test the custom design before it reaches the complete production stage. If there’s a flaw or a change to the design that the optical component fits into, it can be fixed much cheaper and easier during this phase.
    • Better buy-in: Physical models are easier to “sell” as a new product or idea. Shareholders don’t have to imagine what a component or product can do based on documents, PowerPoint presentations, or visualizations – they can see it in person.

    Though a prototype can be developed quickly, usually faster than full production, prototyping requires lead time to test the design and ensure its performance. However, with a custom design, this is often a must for proof-of-concept. It also helps to identify and correct problems before they can negatively impact the final project.

    Mass Production of Optics

    Mass production2 is vital to modern society. Most of what consumers have is mass-produced, including appliances, clothing – even a vehicle and its components.

    • Increased productivity: Mass production is about manufacturing high volumes in short periods. For some industries, this is vital to meet consumer demands.
    • Uniformity: Mass production ensures each unit of a product is identical. Quality can be standardized, but because of the production speed, quality control may suffer.
    • Lower costs: Mass production is expensive overall but lower in cost-per-unit. Mass-production manufacturers typically have specialized equipment and assembly lines to produce components much faster.
    • Lower margin for error: Machines on an assembly line are intended to perform certain tasks, making them less likely to make mistakes than humans.
    • Potentially higher initial costs: Mass production typically has a minimum volume, leading to higher upfront capital to bring a design to reality. This is especially true of manufacturers that need specialized machinery to produce products.
    • Lower flexibility: Most assembly lines are automated. If a problem is found in the prototype and subsequent design, the machinery isn’t flexible in changing the design quickly. If many units are produced, that can lead to a significant loss in time and money. With the lead times for product development, a simple market shift can prompt a complete redesign.
    • Minimum orders: To warrant the assembly line and labor costs, mass production usually has a minimum order amount. Customers may need to order a larger number than is necessary to meet the minimum.

    Custom Optics from Apollo Optical Systems

    While mass production is a valuable option for large companies, prototyping is necessary for custom optical components and groundbreaking designs. At Apollo Optical Systems, we guide our customers through all phases of the development cycle, from initial design testing to prototyping to final production and assembly.

    Looking for custom or precision optical components? Contact us today to get an estimate for your design!




About Dan Mcgarry

Mr. McGarry has been a leader in product development and research of electro-optical systems and components for more than twenty years. Complementing his technical capabilities, Mr. McGarry brings the systems and processes of Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and continuous improvement to our team. Before co-founding AOS, Mr. McGarry was the sales manager at Corning Rochester Photonics Corporation and Rochester Photonics Corporation since 1997. This Corporation produces diffractive/refractive lens and lens arrays, micro-structured surfaces in Ni, polymer, Si, photoresist, and SiO2. Manufacturing methods included reactive ion etching, single-point diamond turning, and laser-pattern generation. Now, Mr. McGarry leads AOS as President of Business Development.

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