Anything automated requires precise optics. (Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg)
As I had previously written about, there are a lot of applications for high quality optical systems in the vast world of IoT. However, because the world of IoT varies so much in terms of devices and endpoints, the amount of different optical systems that are needed vary greatly as well. This variation in optical systems means that there is a broad array of different optical image assemblies that need to be manufactured. The variance in types of optical image assemblies in different devices presents a complex manufacturing problem for those looking to build these devices.
Optics manufacturing players
There are many players in the optics manufacturing business and specialized- many of them manufacture camera modules while others manufacture just the optics while others can manufacture the entire device including the module and its components. Others manufacture the equipment that they then sell to the camera module manufacturers, and some do it all. Because of this varying array of companies, it’s worth noting that companies like Flex Ltd. (Flextronics), Foxconn Technology Co. Ltd. (Foxconn), and Jabil Circuit, Inc. (Jabil, NYSE: JBL), all manufacture devices with optical systems of varying complexity. These companies take varying approaches to how they build devices with cameras and some of them engage more with buying ready camera modules while others prefer to design and build their own.
Many companies, many levels of image quality
You have companies like REO and AO designing optical assemblies, while you have others like AEI, TriOptics, Hyvision, Pamtek, Kasalis and SD Optics making the machines. Then, you also have companies like Chicony, Sunny, and Primax making entire modules and integrating parts from different suppliers and then supplying companies like the contract manufacturers to build using their modules. With this many players and this many suppliers, there is a broad degree of image quality that you get from some of these manufacturers. A lot of that has to do with the types of camera systems they are supplying to their customers and the levels of complexity they are dealing with.
Optics need improvement to meet mobile and IoT demands at every price level
As camera systems become more prevalent on IoT devices and look to be less obvious, their complexity will increase. With increased complexity, also comes increased cost to manufacture and poorer yields. Many of these companies offer different solutions to addressing the increasing complexity of optical systems, with some offering more expensive material costs to address the problem. Others have looked towards more precision and automated processes that are better than the old way of manufacturing optical assemblies. Screw-in and placed optics inside of optical image assemblies simply won’t cut it in the future where precision manufactured optics will be required to meet the needs of devices that need to be able to identify their surroundings.
Active alignment suppliers the likely winners
Some manufacturers like AEI, Kasalis*, HyVision, Pamtek and TriOptics offer a solution to the need for more precise camera modules and more specifically the optical image assemblies within them. This technique is commonly referred to as Active Alignment and allows for manufacturers to build their optical image assemblies in way that increases image quality and reduces scrap. By actively adjusting the lens assembly on top of the image sensor, these companies can discover the optimal lens placement on top of the sensor. While these companies all have different approaches, active alignment has proven to be one of the more attractive options to improve image quality of cameras while also adding cost effectiveness to the manufacturing process.
Moor Insights & Strategy can only recommend suppliers with active alignment capabilities as it shows the best quality-cost ratios available in the foreseeable future.
Manufacturing optical image assemblies is not an easy task, especially not when it comes to the devices we are seeing today and expect to see in the future in mobility and IoT. Thinner smartphones and new IoT devices are making these optical image assemblies harder to design and even harder to manufacture. Thanks to manufacturing processes like active alignment, we are starting to see camera systems improving on devices in both quality and design. The industry appears to be embracing active alignment as a way to build precision optics and it remains to be seen how different techniques ultimately result in better products and lower manufacturing costs.
We will start drilling into specific manufacturers in following columns.
*Kasalis is a subsidiary of Jabil Optics