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  • Writer's pictureYosi Arazi

The Importance of Tolerance Analysis in Optical Design

Updated: May 2

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Introduction to tolerances in optical design

In the world of optical system design, one of the most critical tasks before moving into production, especially for serial production, is tolerance analysis. Tolerance analysis is often perceived as a time-consuming endeavor, leading some companies to overlook or even skip it. This approach can be tempting, especially in the early stages of development when there's pressure to produce a working prototype quickly. However, neglecting tolerance analysis can have severe implications. The problems typically arise during serial production, leading to failed acceptance tests, rejects, low production yields, delays, and potential penalties, or even worse – delivering a product that falls short of customer requirements.

It is important to note that the problems of production yield resulted in a significant waste of time and resources, which is greater than the time and resources that a systematic tolerance analysis would have consumed if conducted as a part of the development process.

The bottom line is clear – tolerance analysis during the design stage saves a substantial.

Tolerance Analysis Process

Sensitivity and Monte Carlo Analysis in optical design

The tolerance analysis process can be broken down into two main stages:

1. Sensitivity Analysis

In sensitivity analysis, every parameter within the system undergoes systematic adjustments from its nominal value. The resulting changes in the system's performance are evaluated to determine how each parameter's variation affects system performance independently. This process provides a relative comparison of all system parameters. Typically, the more sensitive the parameter, the tighter the tolerance it requires.

This analysis helps identify the "weak points" or more critical (sensitive) parameters in the system, where tolerances should be tightened, and the "strengths" or less sensitive parameters, where tolerances can be relaxed. It's essential to note that this analysis considers each parameter in isolation, without accounting for interactions or correlations between parameters. While sensitivity analysis is valuable for understanding parameter sensitivity, it does not predict the real (as-built) system's performance in production.

2. Monte Carlo Analysis

Monte Carlo analysis takes a different approach. In this stage, many systems are simulated and analyzed. Each parameter is varied within its defined tolerance limits, resulting in different system configurations representing the real, as-built systems in production. This approach allows for the simulation of real system performances but doesn't provide insight into which parameters have the most significant impact on system performance.

Both sensitivity analysis and Monte Carlo analysis provide different types of information, which is why it's essential to perform both. Sensitivity analysis helps identify sensitive and insensitive parameters, while Monte Carlo analysis allows for the simulation of real systems in production.

Both Sensitivity and Monte Carlo Analysis have their unique strengths. Sensitivity analysis helps identify which parameters are most sensitive and which are less so. It is valuable for setting the initial tolerance targets. However, it does not account for interactions between parameters, making it less effective at predicting real-world performance.

Monte Carlo analysis, on the other hand, provides a more comprehensive view of how the system will perform in production. It simulates the randomness and variability encountered during manufacturing. By examining a broad spectrum of possible scenarios, it can offer a realistic assessment of production yield and potential issues.

Therefore, it is imperative to perform both sensitivity and Monte Carlo analyses in the tolerance analysis process. Sensitivity analysis informs the initial tolerance specifications, and Monte Carlo analysis verifies and refines those specifications, considering the real-world complexity of production.

In essence, sensitivity analysis helps in understanding the system's "personality." It tells you which parameters are the key influencers and where you need to focus your attention. Monte Carlo analysis, on the other hand, provides the "real-life test" by introducing the complexities of manufacturing variability.

In many cases, system requirements are flexible, especially in the early design stages. Therefore, a "yield calculator" has been developed to help us understand and present the results of the tolerance analysis as a tool to help make decisions and mitigate risks. This tool is constructed based on Monte Carlo systems and enables the calculation of production yield for a set of adjustable requirements, allowing designers to understand the influence of requirements on production yield. The yield calculator is a valuable resource for system engineers, and technical and project managers, as it facilitates collaboration with customers and optical/opto-mechanical elements manufacturers.

Tailoring Tolerance Analysis to Project Goals: A Strategic Approach

It is crucial to recognize that each company or startup project operates with distinct goals, and these objectives significantly influence the tolerance analysis strategy employed. Given that tolerance analysis can be time-consuming, a correct choice of the right method at any specific stage is important, considering that time is one of the most valuable resources in the design process.

To illustrate this strategic approach, we propose three distinct project objectives, each accompanied by a recommended tolerance analysis plan designed to achieve these goals within the shortest timeframe:

optical design project life cycles

A. Proof of Concept (POC):

Objective: Rapid prototype manufacturing with less emphasis on final performance.

Recommended Plan: Initiate with Sensitivity Analysis to optimize manufacturing tolerances collaboratively with optical parts manufacturers. This approach accelerates prototype development, aligning with the urgency of POC objectives.

B. Prototypes Production:

Objective: Transition from prototypes to production while ensuring all requirements are met.

Recommended Plan: Commence with Sensitivity Analysis for prototype production. Subsequently, perform Monte-Carlo Analysis to guarantee that production units align with specifications and yield requirements, striking a balance between speed and precision.

C. Serial Production:

Objective: Achieve high production yield as a top priority.

Recommended Plan: Prioritize Monte-Carlo Analysis as the initial step to ensure the design and tolerances are conducive to high yield in serial production. Follow this with Sensitivity Analysis to identify and address production process issues, tracing them back to specific parameter tolerances and analyzing failure mechanisms for comprehensive problem-solving.

By aligning the tolerance analysis plan with project goals, companies can optimize their approach, addressing critical aspects efficiently and effectively. This strategic adaptation ensures that the chosen tolerance analysis method complements the project timeline and objectives, contributing to the overall success of the optical design endeavor.

Tolerance Analysis optimization for different project cycles in optical desing
Tolerance Analysis optimization for different project cycles

During the optical design and tolerance analysis, we incorporate an extra tool to assess the manufacturability of our design and the yield of optical elements in serial production. The PanDao tool simulates the fabrication chain using design data, providing valuable feedback for the optical design in the tolerance analysis process. This tool helps us comprehend the impact of tolerances on system cost and yield, making it essential for use during both optical design and tolerance analysis. For further details, please visit our post regarding our collaboration with PanDao.

Conclusion: Tolerance Analysis

In the context of optical system design, tolerance analysis is a critical aspect that ensures a design's viability in the real-world production environment. Employing tools such as sensitivity analysis, Monte Carlo analysis, PanDao and the yield calculator is essential. These tools work simultaneously, empowering optical designers to make well-informed decisions regarding system parameters, tolerances, and requirements. By utilizing these tools, designers can effectively address and mitigate risks associated with optical system manufacturability, yield, and cost.

Tolerance analysis is not just a task to be checked off during the design process. It is an investment in the success of a product design that ensures overcoming production issues, and a means to ensure that the final optical system aligns with the desired specifications.

By recognizing the importance of tolerance analysis in the early design stages, companies can save substantial time and money in the production phase, ensuring the delivery of high-quality optical systems that meet customer expectations. Tolerance analysis should be a fundamental step in the journey from concept to a successful, real-world product.


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