ƒo⁺ – From components to next generation systems

Eight leading Thuringian Photonics companies and two prestigious research institutes have teamed up in the »Innovative Regional Growth Core« fo+ [freeform optics plus] to develop and market innovative freeform optical systems.

The challenge: six levels to innovation

  • design
  • materials
  • manufacturing
  • coating
  • structuring
  • system integration

The alliance unites all aspects of added value for the purpose of producing high-quality and efficient freeform optical systems for national and international customers.

The project started in January 2014 and will run for three years.


Optical systems typically base on a symmetrical, linear optical path. This causes limited optical performance and sytems are usually big and heavy. Yet, clients demand improved optical properties, e.g. higher resolutions in IR-cameras or undistorted wide angle images in multispectral telescopes. At the same time, systems should be low priced and more robust. Today's optics manufacturing can only meet these demands in individual process steps for series production.

In order to bridge this gap, eight companies and two research institutes work together in a project. They focus the regional potential of spherical and aspherical optics and develop core competencies in producing freeform optical systems on all levels of the value-added chain.

Pivotal challenge: innovative design concepts

Novel design concepts as well as new manufacturing and integration technologies are crucial challenges in improving performance parameters and efficiency of optical systems significantly. The aim ist to reduce weight and constructed size by 30 to 50 per cent by integrating freeform elements.

R&D components of the shared technology platform are aligned process chains starting from the development of opical and mechanical design tools and rules regarding "design to cost" and "design to manufacturing", steps for processing, structuring and coating,  up to methods for efficient integration of freeform optical systems.

Although the region is known for its unique competencies in research, development and marketing of optical components and systems, regional supply chains exist only punctual - mostly bilateral. Therefore, the gathering of potential and the networking of regional companies to form an added value cluster of freeform optics is an important objective of the project fo+. This cluster will meet market demands flexibly, in excellent quality and with the outlook of creating market trends.

A crucial means for success are compact, light and robust demonstrators with various optical functions, that could not be implemented until now.

Educational project

Due to their inherent advantages and their potential for innovative applications, freeform optics will become key components of optical systems in the future. Design, manufacturing and integration of these components are a challenge for science and technology, since conventional methods reach their limits in many cases. The development of new processing techniques for the characterization, production and adjustment of freeform elements is the subject of current research. However, these methods have not yet entered education and training.

Regarding skills shortage in the high technology sector, the objectives of an educational project are the sourcing of qualified staff for all involved companies as well as the dissemination of technologies developed during the project by offering education and training modules (e.g. lectures, optics/computer training courses). Thus, the partner companies can benefit directly from the knowledge gathered in the project.

The education modules complement existing degree programs, such as Master of Science in Physics, Master of Science in Photonics (Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena) and Master of Engineering in Laser and Optical Technologies (Ernst-Abbe-Fachhochschule Jena).