The trained electronics engineer and total quality manager has been at kdg for over 25 years. During this time, he has not only gone through all the important polymer manufacturing areas of the company, as head of R&D (since 2003) he significantly helped to build up almost all the innovation and manufacturing processes of the group. Wörle is part of the management team and responsible for sales, technology & innovation at kdg opticomp which was founded as a new technology division of the group in 2013 and since then mainly focuses on the development and manufacturing of high-precision optical components.
High-End Plastics for Prospective Optical Applications
Future developments concerning topics such as „Internet of things“ and „Industry 4.0“ require specialised, customised and implemented optical systems. One possibility is the integration of sensors into clothes. This can only be realised if the optical material properties fit to the needs of the application and therefore, a variety of different plastics with specific properties is essential. Additionally, due to high hygienic standards in medical devices, manufacturers want to replace functional optics with disposables to reduce the costs, simplify the handling and, in the best case, to improve the performance.
Thus, within the last years many potent polymers were rediscovered and applied for optical applications, their physical and chemical properties were improved or new plastics were invented whose properties can partly compete with glass or even have benefits such as low costs, lower density and higher flexibility in application and processing. So the commonly used PMMA and polycarbonate are only two representatives of a large palette of high-end transparent plastics which can be processed by high-precision optical moulding and selectively applied for new products. Additionally, many of those materials are already widely used in consumables but without concerning the possibility of new techniques due to their general transparency.
In order to realise the upcoming new tasks, the optic designers and manufacturers have to work very closely with their customers and partners concerning the application area of the final component. So a high experience in material properties is necessary to choose the perfect plastic for individual applications. Such approaches might require high transparency, UV stability, impact strength, biocompatibility, high-precision, temperature stability, sustainability or even combinations of those.
An overview of the status quo concerning today’s high-end plastics will be presented and this will enable a categorisation of the materials into physical, chemical and environmental properties as a guiding and supporting database to enter new markets. Practical examples will be emphasised by the experiences obtained from own experiments, projects and market-ready product developments.