What is Electroforming?
Precision Electroformed Optics
Electroformed optical components are substrates created entirely from plated metal, electro-chemically deposited to provide a precision reproduction of a surface. The electroforming process involves deposition of a metal onto a master shape of desired contour geometry and surface finish to a predetermined thickness. Optiforms typically deposits pure electrolytic nickel within carefully controlled parameters onto a precisely ground and polished stainless steel master tool. During the plating process, the electro-deposited material matches the surface of the master at the molecular level. When the plating is completed to the desired thickness, the deposited material is removed as a substrate shell from the master form. Since the master is directly responsible for both the electroform’s geometry and its surface specularity, the finished component is an extremely accurate replica of the master’s surface. In this manner, many exact replicas of costly surfaces can be accomplished at a relatively low cost per part.
Quality Optics Production
Optiforms has developed specialized fabrication techniques for the productions of master surfaces, along with testing methods that ensure the highest possible surface accuracies. Typically, in production, our master geometry will not deviate from the specified theoretical geometry by more than ±30 arc seconds of surface slope error. The final surface specularity of the polished master is typically 80-50 scratch & dig to meet the requirements of the MIL-0-13830A. The primary advantage of stainless steel masters is their capability, in many cases, to produce thousands of electroforms with minimal effect on the original surface quality. Other materials may be used for a master (high grade plastics, aluminum, glass, etc.), but require special preparation and handling techniques.
Our high accuracy electroformed reflectors are a result of careful and precise control of all the vitally important plating parameters which affect the internal stress of the plated metal during the electroforming process. The use of micro-processor controllers gives the most precise and consistent control utilized in the industry. Our chemical lab is responsible for monitoring all the process plating solutions to maintain accurate chemical consistent balances. This allows the highest possible quality of electroforms with an absolute minimum of residual stress, as evident in other manufacturer’s electroforms. These precise process controls and careful production procedures allow us to hold optical accuracies as close as ±2 arc minutes surface slope deviation from the master’s geometry. In addition, these precisely controlled plating parameters enable us to produce reflectors ranging in thickness from 0.001 to over 0.25 inches without any effect on the reflector’s desired geometry.
Following the electroforming of a reflector, the part is carefully inspected to assure conformance to all specifications. After post-production processes, such as applications of coatings or electro-discharge machining, all components are again fully inspected by our quality assurance department to verify product quality and accuracy consistent with all customer requirements.
Unique Geometric Capabilities
Electroforming permits the production of exotic or complicated shapes at a substantial cost savings over conventional manufacturing methods such as grinding and polishing glass, diamond or other single-point machining, etc. Aspheric shapes such as paraboloids, ellipsoids, hyperboloids, and off-axis segments can be produced in volume at a fraction of the cost compared to conventional optical fabrication techniques. Since the electroforming is a process of replication, each electroform will exhibit equal physical and optical characteristics as the previously made part for a uniform consistency in product quality.
Optiforms has the capability of producing a variety of specialized shapes including laser-pumping cavities, parabolic and elliptical 2-axis linear troughs, ophthalmic molds, multi-faceted integrating reflectors, as well as full aperture, geometric configurations and access holes. Electroforming is a unique and extremely accurate process that eliminates the optical distortions and dimensional deviations usually induced through conventional machining methods.
Computer Designed Optics
Computer-aided design and engineering have been used at Optiforms since its inception. Our capabilities include 2D and 3D component design, drafting, parametric design and drafting for fast turnaround of new products and/or tooling, optical path and ray-trace analysis, and optical analysis of component design. This computer-aided optical design allows aconic surfaces to be generated which maximize a given system’s performance parameters. Computer generated geometries are then easily produced in master tooling utilizing CNC machining technology.
Optiforms is a modern facility located in the industrial heart of Southern California. We are dedicated to the production of high accuracy, precision electroformed optics and high performance optical coatings for a diverse array of applications. Our manufacturing capabilities range from single parts to volume orders with consistently excellent product quality at high production yield rates. Our technical services department has years of accumulated experience in optical design, electro-mechanical and electro-optical system engineering, production technologies and quality control. The technical services staff is available to discuss new design concepts, conversions, or improvement of existing system designs utilizing our low cost, high accuracy electroformed products.