Thorlabs' Optics Business Unit is located in our Corporate Headquarters in Newton, NJ. Our production facility is staffed with well-trained, experienced technicians supported by our engineering team. The department has a wide breadth of manufacturing capabilities, including the production of lenses, polarization optics, isolators, filters, mirrors, and coatings.
Our investment in metrology equipment operated by knowledgable staff allows us to consistently achieve tight tolerances on specifications and provides high-quality optics at competitive prices. If you have questions about our manufacturing and custom capabilities, click on the Contact Us button to the left to e-mail our Tech Support team.
Click on the images below to learn about the tools used for each step of the optics manufacturing process.
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Thorlabs' optics engineering room is located next to our production and quality control facilities.
- SolidWorks for 3D Modeling
- Zemax for Evalulating the Performance of Optics
- TFCalc and OptiLayer for Designing Optical Coatings
Our optics engineering team is comprised of 11 members who are roughly divided into two groups, one of which focuses on manufacturing while the other specializes in product design. Both groups, however, are still involved in all parts of the production process.
Design Engineering Team
Our design team uses SolidWorks, Zemax, and TFCalc to design new optics and test prototypes with our metrology equipment (see the Assembly & Quality tab for details). One of our two cleanrooms also houses a lab where the engineers can build custom experiments for additional testing.
Our manufacturing engineers participate in process improvement, handle inspection, and aid our technicians on the production floor as needed. They are responsible for building custom aparatuses that streamline the assembly process for mounted optics. In addition, these engineers handle inquiries from our technical support staff and collect the performance data we provide for the products on our website.
Optical Isolator Team
Several members of our engineering team are dedicated to manufacturing our isolator product line, which is hand built and aligned. Their efforts are focused on handling customer requests for non-stock and custom isolators as well as expanding the capabilities of our isolator line.
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The program Zemax is being used by this engineer to design a product.
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An engineer works on the design of a mounted optic using SolidWorks.
4 Surface Grinding Stations
- Diamond Wheel Machine Runs at 5,000 rpm
- Grind Glass Plates to an Even Thickness
(First Stage of the Production Process)
Bridgeport Coring Machines
- Grind Circles Out of Stock Glass Plates to Produce
2 Kulicke & Soffa Dicing Machines
- Dice Flat Plates up to 5 mm Thick for Square Optics
- Used on Both Polished and Unpolished Plates
4 Inner Diameter Saws
- Slice Raw Material to Produce Our Polarized Optics
16B Speedfam Grinder and 16B Speedfam Polisher
- Grinds or Polishes Both Sides of Optics Simultaneously
- Holds 315 to 325 Ø1" Round Optics or 80 2" x 2"
Square Optics per Run
9B Speedfam Grinder and Polisher
- Grinds or Polishes Both Sides of Optics Simultaneously
- Holds 240 - 350 Ø1/2" Round Optics, 140 Ø1"
Round Optics, or 32 2" x 2" Square Optics per Run
30 Strasbaugh Polishing Spindles
- Use Polishing Compounds such as Cerium Oxide to Achieve Specified Surface Quality for Flat Optics
The Fabrication Process
This video provides an overview of the manufacturing processes for Thorlabs' plano optics.
Processing Raw Materials
The production of Thorlabs' optics begins by grinding and polishing the substrates, which may be in the form of a sheet, blanks, or a calcite boule. For optics that start as a sheet of glass, the surface grinding stations are used to smooth and level the surface. Next, the sheets are cut into either round pieces of the desired size using a coring machine or square optics up to 5 mm thick using our K&S dicing machines. Other optics, such as a portion of our mirrors, are produced from pre-formed blanks that we grind and polish to the desired surface shape and quality. For information on processing calcite boules, see the Polarized Optics section below.
To hold the optics in place during the grinding and polishing process, they are adhered to a circular block that is several inches thick. This process is called "blocking" and can be accomplished through several techniques. For most optics, either wax or resin is used to secure the optics to the flat surface of the block. For optics requiring very high parallelism tolerances, a technique called contacting is employed. For this process, optics are pressed firmly onto a special blocking cylinder so that a vacuum is created between the optic and the block's surface, thereby holding the optic in place.
Grinding and Polishing
Prior to polishing flat optics, a coarse grit or grinding substrate is utilized to grind each side of the optic flat to the desired thickness and wedge angle between the optic's surfaces. The coarse grains of the grinding surface or slurry quickly remove material from the surface of optics, leading to efficient shaping but poor surface quality. Hence, after grinding the optic to the desired shape, finer grits and polishing compounds are used to polish the optic to the specified surface quality. We currently have the capability to polish optics to a surface roughness better than 1 Å for our super polished optics. Once the grinding and polishing process is complete, the flat optics produced in this part of our machine shop are inspected by in-process quality control. If they meet the needed specifcations, they may be sold, sent out for coating, or assembled into other components.
Calcite arrives at Thorlabs in the form of a large crystal, or boule, that must be cut into smaller pieces. The boule for our polarized optics goes through several rounds of slicing, grinding, and polishing before it is integrated into one of our polarized optical components. The calcite boule's optical axis is aligned to the desired orientation and secured in a chuck so that it can be sliced into slabs using the inner diameter (ID) saws. The slabs are blocked and ground to parallel the surfaces before each slab is cut into bars by the ID saws. Finally, the bars are cut into cubes. For optics with angled surfaces, such as our beamsplitter cubes, the calcite bars or cubes may be placed in special blocks that allow the surface to be ground to the appropriate angle. The calcite is now ready for the final grind and polish, as described above. Once these optics have been polished to the specified surface quality on the Strasbaugh spindles, they will be integrated into one of our polarized optical components, such our Glan Laser, Glan Taylor, Glan Thompson, Double Glan Taylor, and Wollaston polarizers.
Our wave plates are blocked using the contacting technique to ensure good parallelism across each wave plate and the entire block. Components for our wave plates are polished to the required retardance rather than a set thickness and optically measured to ensure they meet the stated specifications. Each wave plate is mounted and aligned using setups built entirely from Thorlabs' components. We currently produce zero-order, multi-order, and achromatic wave plates at several discrete wavelengths between 266 nm and 2020 nm. OEM and custom designed versions of our wave plates are also available upon request.
This video provides an overview of Thorlabs' lens production facility.
Spherical and Aspherical Optics Production
- Capable of Producing Both Spherical Optics and Aspheres
- Satisloh Grinding and Polishing Machines Capable of Fabricating Lenses Between Ø2 mm and Ø150 mm
- Nanotech® 450UPL Diamond Point Turning Machine for Fabricating IR Lenses and Mirrors
- Zygo VerifireTM Asphere Interferometer for
For in-house production of spherical and aspherical optics, Thorlabs has Satisloh grinders and polishers, a Satisloh C-25L for centration and custom shaping, a Nanotech® 450UPL diamond point turning machine, and a Zygo VerifireTM Asphere Interferometer. With the Satisloh machines, we can shape lenses between 2 mm (0.08") and 150 mm (5.9") in diameter. For example, the lenses for our air-spaced doublets are produced here. The machinists have optimized the production process by varying parameters in the Satisloh machines, such as experimenting with the density of the polishing compound to minimize polishing time while still achieving the desired surface quality of the finished lens. The diamond point turning machine can polish curved optics from harder materials that cannot be easily processed by the Satisloh polishers, such as lenses for the mid- to deep-IR and Thorlabs’ off-axis parabolic mirrors.
A Satisloh grinding machine is the first machine used to set the shape of a spherical or aspherical optic. To grind the optic, it uses a lubricant that is a mixture of water and oil as well as a cylindrical grinding tool that has a beveled bottom edge with diamond grip. To shape the surface of the optic, the grinding tool spins around its axis of symmetry while the beveled edge moves across the glass. The lens radius is determined by the angle of the edge of the grinding tool against the surface of the glass. Compared to a polishing machine, the grinding tool has a coarser surface, which can remove material quickly to set the curvature of the optic. Grinding a spherical lens will typically take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the desired radius of curvature, lens material, and outer diameter.
A Satisloh polishing machine refines the curvature of the lens set by the grinder. This machine uses a cerium oxide polishing compound and is responsible for setting the surface quality of the finished optic. A sheet of polishing material, or foil, is secured inside a connical grinding tool and positioned above a rubber ring inside the polisher. The optic is placed in this ring and air pressure is used to gently create contact between the lens and the foil. Once the optic has been polished for several minutes, the technician will check the surface quality and fit of the lens using the Zygo interferometer. The shape and thickness of the foil will be adjusted as needed until the optic meets the desired specifications. Typically, polishing a lens takes 5 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the radius of curvature, material, and outer diameter.
The Satisloh C-2SL is used for centering and free-form shaping of optics. It can achieve centration down to 5 arcseconds, easily accomodating the <3 arcminutes specification we have for most of our optics. While this machine is mainly used to grind down the edge of an optic to meet our diameter and centration specifications, we have also produced custom-shaped optics for customers and other groups within the organization, such as Thorlabs Quantum Electronics.
Zygo VerifireTM Asphere Interferometer
The Zygo VerifireTM Asphere Interferometer is located next to the lens cell to provide in-process metrology. This machine is used to check the form and surface quality of optics as they are produced in the lens cell and is their final stop before they are sent over to coating or assembly. The interferometer has an aperature of 6" to accomodate a range of lens sizes and NAs. To measure the properties of a lens, a reference sphere or flat is placed in one of the legs of the interferometer to shape the wavefront. For spherical optics, the lens being examined is mounted after the reference sphere in the optical path and moved to the point where the curvature of the wavefront matches the curvature of the lens. The interferometer uses the resulting interference pattern to map the optics' surface. This Zygo interferometer also measures aspheres by varying the distance of the optic from the reference sphere and recording the changing interference pattern. The Zygo's computer can analyze the results to determine properties such as surface flatness, radius of curvature, and power.
Nanotech® 450UPL Diamond Point Turning Machine
The diamond point turning machine can polish curved optics from harder materials that cannot easily be accomodated in the Satisloh machines, such as lenses for the mid- to deep-IR and our off-axis parabolic mirrors. Blanks for the mirrors are machined in-house on CNC machines in Thorlabs' mechanics department. Materials for IR lenses, such as zinc selenide, germanium, and calcium fluoride, are processed in a dedicated Satisloh SPM 55 grinder in preparation for polishing in the diamond point turning machine. The roughly-shaped lens substrates or mirror blanks are mounted on a circular tool that can spin at up to 10,000 rpm. As the tool rotates, a diamond cutting tool is pressed against the blanks to shave away material, creating the desired shape and surface quality. The video above shows the machine shaping some of our Ø2" off-axis parabolic mirrors. After leaving this machine, the optics are inspected to ensure that they meet our productions standards before being sent to the coating lab or assembly clean room.
This video provides an overview of Thorlabs' optic coating capabilities.
Optical Coating Lab
- 9 Coating Chambers:
- 2 Chambers for Dedicated Use with Metals
- Tecport 6 and 7 Chambers with Ion-Assisted Deposition (IAD)
- Tecport Plasma Assist 54" Box Coater
- Veeco Spector with Ion Beam Sputtering
- Ultrasonic Cleaner
- Cary 5000 Spectrophotometer for In-Process Testing
When developing a new optical coating, an engineer will model the coating structure needed to achieve the desired optical properties and design a coating procedure. Test runs are performed to refine the coating model and deposition process. The spectral response of the resulting optic is measured in the Varian Cary 5000 and compared to the theoretical prediction for the coating performance. Adjustments are made to the coating procedure and formula until the new coating meets the design specifications. At a minimum, 3 test coating runs are necessary for simple coating designs while more complex coatings require additional testing cycles. Developing a stable coating process typically takes 2 to 4 weeks.
Before optics are mounted in the coating chambers, they pass through our 4-bath ultrasonic cleaner to ensure that their surfaces are clean and free of debris. The clean optics are mounted in circular disks, called planets, which are used to hold the optics during the coating run. The coating materials and planets are loaded into the coating chamber and a technician enters the coating recipe into a computer that controls the coating evaporation and deposition process (see the Optical Coatings page for details on the different types of coating processes used at Thorlabs). Once the coatings are deposited, the spectral properties of the optics can be checked with a spectrophotometer to ensure that the run meets specifications.
Thorlabs' Coating Lab houses 9 coating chambers ranging from e-beam deposition chambers to cutting edge plasma assist and ion beam sputtering chambers. Two of our chambers are dedicated for use with metals and coat our neutral density filters, including our step and graduated neutral density filters. Our Tecport chambers and Veeco chamber use ion-assisted deposition (IAD). During this process, the coating is bombarded with an ion beam as it is deposited on the substrate, packing the molecules together and increasing the density, resulting in coatings with properties stable to environmental changes such as humidity.
The antireflection coatings we offer on many of our optics are deposited in our three Tecport chambers. While all three chambers use IAD, the Tecport Plasma Assist Box Coater uses Plasma Assist technology to produce a high coating packing density at relatively low stress, which is excellent for achieving highly accurate coating specifcations. The Tecport Plasma Assist Chamber can hold six 15" planets, each of which hold nearly 200 1" parts, making it suitable for large volume coating runs.
Our coating lab also contains a Veeco Spector Chamber, which uses ion beam sputtering. This chamber has a relatively low operating temperature and allows our technicians to maintain precise control over the coating properties during the deposition process.
Coatings requiring very accurate refractive indicices, such as those for our edgepass filters, are produced here.
For more details about the coating process, coatings, and substrate materials we offer, see our Optical Coatings and Substrates Page.
This video provides an overview of Thorlabs' optics quality control practices.
Quality Control and Assembly
Key Capabilities: Metrology and Inspection
- Zygo GPI Interferometer
- Can be Configured to Measure Surface Quality of an Optic or Transmitted Wavefront
- Zygo NewView 7100 Non-Contact Surface Profiler
- Can Measure the Surface Roughness of an Optic Down to the Sub-Angstrom Level
- Used to Inspect Our Super Polished Optics
- 4 Nikon Autocollimators
- Measures Parallelism and Angled Surfaces
- Used Alone or with an Ultradex Indexing Head with 0.25 arcsec of Repeatability and 360° of Rotation
- Three Spectrophotometers
- Provide Transmission and Reflection Data from 200 nm to 55.5 µm
- Optospheric Lens Testing Bench
- Can Measure Properties of Powered Optics such as Effective Focal Length, Back Focal Length, Modulation Transfer Function, and Centration
- Epilog Mini Laser Engraver
- Many of Our Optics are Engraved for Ease of Identification
- Optics Inspected to MIL-PRF13830B
- Visual Inspection Performed Against a Black Background with a 100 W Light Bulb Exceeds Inspection Standards, which Only Call for a 40 W Bulb
Custom Quality Services
- Mechanical Measurements Such as Lens Diameter, Optic Thickness, etc.
- Light Inspection of Optics and Fiber
- Microscope Inspection Available Upon Request
- Temperature Cycling and Environmental Testing Between 0 and 120 °C
- Custom Engraving
Quality Control in the Optics Business Unit at Thorlabs includes both in-process and final inspection. In-process inspection occurs once an optic has been shaped to specification. The optics are checked for features such as surface quality, paralellism, polarization, and optical power. The optics that leave this section of Thorlabs may be sold as uncoated optics or incorporated into other product lines. A second quality department operates in one of our cleanrooms to examine our optics after they have gone through the final steps of production, such as incorporation into a more complex component like our optical isolators. In addition to our standard inspection process, this department offers custom inspection services. Metrology of individual optics chosen by the customer, such as reflectance scans or measurements of surface quality with an interferometer, are also available for a fee upon request. Please contact Tech Support for details about available custom services and pricing information.
Engineering Lab and Assembly Stations
An engineering lab and stations for assembling our polarizers, isolators, collimators, and mounted optics are located adjacent to our quality control facilities. Besides the equipment listed above, our engineers and technicians have built custom setups from Thorlabs' photonics equipment that technicians use to align components before securing them to another optic with epoxy or mounting them inside a housing. Our collimator alignment station, for example, is constructed entirely from parts produced at Thorlabs.
Specials and Custom Orders
- Ability to Manufacture Optics with Custom Geometries and Specifications
- Support for OEM Sales and Low Quantity Specials
- Technical Support Staff for Processing Quotes and Lead Time Requests
Our optics manufacturing and assembly teams are uniquely qualified to handle special requests for modifications to our catalog optical components. Custom optic sizes, geometries, substrate materials, and coatings are available with prices that are comparable to our stock offerings. In addition, we are capable of producing custom optics that exceed the specifications of our catalog products. Our technical staff is able to help with all phases of your request: quoting, sales, and planning and manufacturing support. If you have a custom request or a question about our capabilities, please contact Tech Support to start a discussion.
The section below describes our single-point diamond turning capabilities as one example where we can provide support for OEM and custom orders.
Custom Off-Axis Parabolic (OAP) and Aspheric Mirrors
- Nanotech® 450UPL Ultra Precision 3-Axis CNC Diamond Turning Lathe for Individual Custom Mirrors
- Custom Sizes, Focal Lengths, Substrates, Coatings, and Clearance Holes
- Off- and On-Axis Parabolic, Conical, and Toroidal Mirrors
- Biconic Surfaces and Irregular Aspheric Optics
Thorlabs’ advanced single-point diamond turning capabilities allow us to produce custom OAP and aspheric mirrors in small quantities. We can produce long focal length and large diameter optics, as well as optics with custom shapes.
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We offer OAP mirrors with custom sizes, focal lengths, substrates, coatings, and clearance holes.
In addition to our stock off-axis parabolic (OAP) mirrors, Thorlabs is also capable of manufacturing a variety of custom aspheric mirrors. Our unique single-point diamond turning (SPDT) capabilities allow us to produce these customs in low quantities at prices that are comparable with our stock offerings. As shown in the video to the right, we engage the slow-slide-servo process of our SPDT machine to polish individual off-axis mirrors by synchronizing the rotational position of the spindle with the linear position of the translation axes.
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Toroidal mirrors have two different radii of curvature and are used to image off-axis points without introducing astigmatism.
This unique manufacturing capability allows us to provide OAP mirrors with custom reflected focal lengths and diameters, including long-focal-length and large-diameter optics that cannot be produced by conventional two-axis machining. In addition, we can produce OAPs with a variety of custom substrates (including copper), custom coatings, and custom hole sizes and shapes. The use of copper substrates and other advanced techniques also allow us to offer OAP mirrors with enhanced finishes that exhibit less surface roughness than our our stock products, resulting in improved wavefront quality.
Our SPDT competency also enables us to produce mirrors with other custom biconic surfaces and aspheric shapes, including on-axis parabolic, conical, and toroidal mirrors. These custom mirror shapes can be used in a wide variety of optical instruments and specialized imaging systems. For example, toroidal mirrors, which are used to image off-axis points without introducing astigmatism, are commonly used in compact Czerny-Turner monochromators. Conical mirrors, on the other hand, are ideal for non-imaging applications that require 360° of uniform illumination.
We are generally able to produce custom OAPs and aspheric mirrors with short lead times. For modifications to an existing part, delivery in 4-6 weeks is standard. For custom shapes and long focal length optics, a 6-8 week lead time is typical. To receive more information or a quote for a custom optic, please contact Tech Support.
Our engineers are available to help manufacture optics for your application.
Customs are available in low quantities at prices that are comparable with our stock catalog products.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your custom optic requests.