Jun 17, 2021

Industry insights: the future of cell phone camera lens manufacturing

Category: Industry Trends
Industry insights: the future of cell phone camera lens manufacturing

Recently, Zemax Chief Technology Officer Sanjay Gangadhara, sat down with leaders in optical manufacturing to discuss the future of design and manufacturing cell phone camera lenses. Sanjay was joined by European Photonics Industry Consortium Director of Technology and Innovation, Jose Pozo, NIL Technology CEO and Founder, Theodor Nielsen and PHABULOuS pilot line Chief Technology Officer, Oscar Fernandez.

During this conversation, they discussed the following topics.  

  • The trends for cell phone camera lens manufacturing. 

  • The benefits and challenges of using micro-optics vs. diffractive optics in designing the next generation of cell phone lenses.

  • The opportunities the European market faces in bringing cell phone camera lens manufacturing in-country.

We have distilled down this hour-long conversation into the summary below, and have also included the podcast if you’d like to tune in to the full discussion! (Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity or length). 

Jose Pozo: Today, we are here to talk about cell phone lens manufacturing, and we really want to understand with the companies in the room, what challenges we may face, and how this revolution of micro and nano optics that we are currently leading, can solve those challenges.

Let's start the discussion. I have an Apple iPhone in my hand. When I see the future trend of cell phone lens manufacturing, I can see that size restrictions for cell phone camera lenses are becoming tighter. From our perspective, I see two ways in which designs are evolving to address these new challenges. On one hand, we have freeform and aspherical lenses and on the other hand, we have the meta-surfaces and diffractive components. Would you agree with this?

Theodor Nielsen: Well, I agree on the initial thoughts here that there are two obvious choices to address the future of the bulky part of the lenses. I also think that in the near future, it is the aspherical lenses that will be dominating simply because the trend is not to compromise on the image quality. With that said, I think that is a very exciting future for meta optics and meta lenses, as we call them here, meta optical elements. When you read some of the latest marketing material coming out in press releases, one can be led to think that one surface meta lenses will replace the entire optical and bulky systems that you have today. I think that will not be the case, at least not for the foreseeable future. But I think it is possible within a reasonable amount of time that some of these 6p or 7p systems can be reduced to have fewer refractive elements and then replaced with one or two meta lenses such that you will have a 4P-1M system, for instance. And I think that is the trend. You will have more functionalities. So same performance, smarter and more advanced optical elements.

Jose Pozo: Oscar, In the pilot line PHABULOuS you have looked at different ways of making the micro-optics. We talk about the application based on masters, but you also talk about roll-to-sheet and even roll-to-roll. When you see these two trends, on one hand, having meta surfaces and the other one having freeform, wafer- level micro-optics. What is your take on this? And do you think that for penetrating the cell phone lens market, we have an opportunity or a big challenge for Europe in general?

Oscar Fernandez: Mass manufacturing is an advantage for how PHABULOuS has been set up in terms of reducing cost because most of the cost is associated with the creation of the lenses, whereas the replication material and replication is expected to be a little cheaper. So, the bigger the market is, the more favorable it is for printing micro lenses.

Sanjay Gangadhara: This leads into the next topic that I wanted to talk about, which is the manufacturability of these systems. The decision to go between a freeform or micro-optics solution vs.  the meta lens solution may in many cases come down to the ability to manufacture. Do you see significant advantages in terms of manufacturability, of refractive designs versus diffractive or meta surface type systems?

Oscar Fernandez: What I can say from the freeform point of view is that these are emerging technologies. The technologies have been improved towards freeforms. I am talking about mainly diamond micro machining that has been continuously advanced towards the manufacturability of freeforms.  Also new technologies like photon absorption, for example, which has been improved continuously with the release of these nanoscribe greyscale to photon absorption systems that can print very nicely over probably 50 times less time than before. So, all these advantages are really an asset to the manufacturability. And these are not the only ones, that are also more like femtosecond laser ablation and laser polishing. There are new technologies that are continuously improving the manufacturability of these freeform micro lenses.

Sanjay Gangadhara: How will the European market bridge the gap with Asian innovation in manufacturing in terms of cell phone lenses manufacturing capability? What do you see as the next steps with respect to cell phone manufacturing considering what is happening in Asia?

Jose Pozo: I think Europe is doing it right. I think the idea that we were brought here today by both PHABULOuS and NIL Technology are the right way. So, we have technologies for example, what Oscar said about doing the freeforms on both sides of the lenses are very good on the research side. And to take into production, you need to start by doing the pilot production. And on that, I do believe that we do have the right place in Europe. But I also have a dream if we are going to take this to production as well, why not in Europe? In Europe right now we are talking about these two nanometre foundries for semiconductors and people are saying, gosh, why should Europe have a two nanometre foundries? I mean, why not? We have the best lithography machines. We have the best deposition machines, so why not? And the same thing here, we have the best micro-optics right now in the world. Not only with NIL Technology, but also companies doing two-photon polymerization, companies doing deep UV, companies doing roll-to-sheet, we have the best ones here. In my opinion, the future is large scale production here in Europe.

To hear the full discussion with EPIC, NIL Technology, PHABULOuS and Zemax click here.

Looking to expand your knowledge with Zemax? Take a look at our upcoming webinars and events for more opportunities to learn and grow your optical design understanding here. We hope you join us at a future event!

To learn more about OpticsStudio, the industry standard optical design software, try it for free