Nanoscribe (Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany) has created high-precision 3D printers for fabrication of micro-optical components. Using Nanoscribe´s 3D printer Photonic Professional GT, which is based on two-photon polymerization, a broad range of almost arbitrary micro-optical shapes, including standard refractive micro-optics, freeform optics, diffractive optical elements, and even multiplet lens systems can now be printed in a one-step process.
The additive-manufacturing process used is, of course, very different from the conventional grinding and polishing of lenses; advantages include a great reduction in geometrical constraints and easy, fast (within a few days) production of one to many elements. Nanoscribe says that the process produces high shape accuracy and optically smooth surfaces.
And another very interesting feature: photonic "wirebonds" can be fabricated using the same 3D printing technology in the same production process. A photonic wirebond is basically a fabricated-in-place optical fiber that can be used to duct light from one optic to another, one optoelectronic component to another, or even one photonic chip to another.
Here are a few examples of components 3D-printed with Nanoscribe’s process:
Researchers from the University of Stuttgart used a Photonic Professional GT system to print micro-objective lenses with different focal lengths onto a high-resolution CMOS chip. All images created by the lenses on the chip are simultaneously read out electronically and processed into an image with a significantly improved resolution in the center. This so-called "foveated imaging" is attractive for the production of cameras with sensors that mirror the extra wide field of vision of an eagle´s eye—for example, for applications in the automotive or smartphone industry as well as in the medical field.