JML Optical has been a key player in precision optics for over 50 years. Our sophisticated lean manufacturing facility allows us to work at every step of the optical manufacturing process, including design, prototyping, fabrication, metrology, thin-film coating, testing, and assembly. Our products and services supply customers in the aerospace, life science, defense, entertainment, and other industries with the optical solutions they rely on daily.
Our position in the top 10% of optical manufacturers in the U.S. is in large part thanks to our vertically integrated business strategy. Learn how vertical integration in optics can help you get ahead of your competitors.
What is Vertical Integration in Precision Optics?
Vertical integration is a strategy by which a manufacturer takes control of most stages in the production process instead of relying on multiple external contractors or suppliers.
Vertical integration usually lies in the middle of the production chain. For example, vertical integration typically won’t include the processing of raw materials, but it does include the product design stages up to assembly. Manufacturers that successfully incorporate vertical integration tend to have more influence on the market while also providing benefits to their customers.
In the world of optical manufacturing, vertical integration provides a strategic advantage for suppliers and customers. As optical assemblies are quite complex, higher-quality products can be produced when manufactured under a single roof. A completed optical assembly project has six main steps:
- Final Assembly
Customers benefit when these steps are secured from a single integrated source, which can optimize design for manufacturability (DfM). DfM improves the quality and longevity of end products and minimizes the risk of expensive, time-consuming errors further down the manufacturing chain. Vertically integrated vendors are better able to deliver timely, cost-efficient solutions to their customers.
Our Optical Manufacturing Capabilities
For an optical supplier to be considered vertically integrated, they need to offer both manufacturing capabilities and engineering capabilities. JML Optical’s state-of-the-art machinery and skilled professionals meet both criteria.
Optical assembly: Assembly capabilities include a variety of equipment to assist in the construction of an optical system. They can include components and kits that help with mounting, beam manipulation, focusing, and alignment. Using an optical assembly is usually less costly than procuring multiple separate components for an optical system.
Optics fabrication: Optics fabrication includes fabricating glass optics and other components in the four main glass shapes: spherical, aspherical, plano, and cylindrical. It also consists of manufacturing lens housings and complex assemblies.
Environmental testing: Environmental testing for optical components ensures the product meets all your performance requirements and environmental parameters.
Mechanical fabrication: Mechanical fabrication refers to the machinery used in making the optics. This can include CNC machinery, pitch polishers, and mount machining equipment.
Thin-film deposition: Most optical surfaces have a thin-film coating that alters the optical component’s properties. Complex projects usually call for multiple thin-film coatings. Popular thin films include beamsplitters, dichroic filters, UV filters, infrared filters, and more.
Engineering and Design Capabilities
Metrology: Optics manufacturing requires precise fabrication as well as measurement methods. A quality optical manufacturer should have the know-how to perform measurements using manual calipers as well as sophisticated interferometers.
Optical: Optical manufacturers must have the proper optical engineering personnel to design and develop even the most complex optical projects.
Manufacturing: Manufacturers should have the capability to make blanks and shape them into the final lens products.
Mechanical: Successful optical manufacturing also relies on a deep understanding of mechanical engineering.
Thin film: Understanding the performance requirements and expected environmental conditions of the lens enables optical engineers to determine which thin films need to be applied.
Benefits of Vertical Integration
Vertical integration provides key benefits to companies in any industry, but this is especially true for precision optics. Given the complex nature of precision optics, keeping as many production stages under one roof can minimize the risk of mistakes and reduce lead times. Customers will also find it more convenient to work with a single supplier rather than multiple vendors to meet their needs.
A vertically integrated supplier is capable of designing a system that meets very specific requirements. The supplier will have engineers on staff with diverse expertise, allowing for seamless communication and problem-solving.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of vertical integration is quick turnaround times. By keeping the entire process under one roof, the supplier can perform these tasks without delays:
- Analyze optical element edge thickness
- Check the number of elements that can fit in the coating chamber
- Determine acceptable lens diameters for the polishing machines and coating chambers
- Evaluate surface runouts based on mounting strategy
- Test manufacturing tolerances
- Test thin film performance
Optimizing Optical System Design
Optical system manufacturers are expected to deliver high levels of quality and cost-efficiency within tight deadlines. To achieve these requirements, a successful optical manufacturer should have a talented workforce and manufacturing capabilities to create innovative products. Many customers are racing against competitors, so being the first to market is critical to increasing profitability and market share.
This is why optimizing design is crucial to controlling the end product’s cost, quality, and performance. Most cost-saving decisions are made during the design and prototyping phase. For example, a conceptual design can appear to be perfectly functional. However, the design must be assessed by multiple experts from each stage of the development process before approval. This holistic approach ensures the design is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
VERTICAL INTEGRATION MITIGATES POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
Outsourcing each step of optical production to different vendors can lead to added costs and lead time. With each vendor, tolerances can grow tighter, impacting the assembly of the individual elements. Although the final assembly may perform as intended, it may add extra cost and lead time. Errors in any individual component can further complicate the entire production process.
With a single vertically integrated supplier, there is a dedicated product development team that can easily alter variables while the product is in its conception. The design team is on the same page as they develop the necessary list of parts, determine manufacturing requirements, identify testing procedures, and outline the assembly process. A dedicated project manager oversees the entire production cycle from product design to final assembly.
Should a problem arise, it can be addressed earlier. Corrections can be made easily and within budget, and deadlines can still be met. Customers benefit from the supplier’s in-depth, layered knowledge that only comes through vertical integration.
WORK WITH JML OPTICAL
As a vertically integrated optical manufacturer, JML Optical delivers high-quality precision optical solutions within your timeline and budget. With us, you can simplify and streamline your supply chain of optical assemblies. Our team can help with every step of optical production, including optomechanical engineering design, skilled fabrication, thin-film coating, cleanroom assembly for complex builds, advanced metrology for quality assurance, and environmental testing—all under one roof.
With fewer external handoffs, vertical integration helps you save time and money. JML Optical can address all your needs, from concept to prototype to production.
Do you have a project in mind? Request a free quote to get started.