For optical plastics manufacturers, everything rides on the quality of the lenses and mirrors produced. Ensuring optical quality, however, is not easy. A difficult, time-consuming process, optical-quality assurance is one of the best examples of man and machine working in concert to achieve results that neither could attain on their own.
Robust Materials, Tooling, and Process
The old adage is true that you cannot inspect quality into a process. Any manufacturing process which requires extensive sorting of good product from bad product is an archaic process indeed. To make high quality mirrors and domes requires the combination of three key elements:
1) Excellent substrate materials. It is not possible to repair a sheet of acrylic or polycarbonate which contains optical flaws. One must start with flawless raw material.
2) Tooling and machinery must be well designed and robust, generally fabricated from steel and aluminum and other durable materials of construction, with modern electronic controls. Inexpensive wood tooling or manually controlled equipment is fine for low-grade low-volume applications but is unsuitable for mass-production of high quality mirrors.
3) Process conditions must be robust as well. A robust process is not affected by minor changes to room temperature or other normal daily fluctuations.
Long-Time Employees, Well-Trained Eyes
It takes good equipment and robust manufacturing processes to make high-quality convex mirrors. But there is simply no replacement for the focused brains and well-trained eyes of seasoned, veteran employees. The experience of the people making the product serves as the first and best defense against even the most minor blemishes.
That’s why’ it’s so important to create a good work environment with happy employees. The immediate benefit of that effort is low turnover. When employees stay with a company, that company is left with machine operators who have years of cumulative knowledge and experience, which allows them to instinctively spot even trivial defects with little more than a glance.
When a consumer looks at a mirror, they’re usually focused on the reflection. But in the plastic mirror business, quality-control pros have their eye on the mirror, not the reflected image. Through years of experience their eyes have been trained to look beyond the superficial into the composition of a mirror. When a problem is spotted, an experienced operator knows what causes optical defects and how to adjust the process to prevent that defect from recurring.
So when it comes down to it, superior optical quality mirrors requires BOTH experienced employees and technologically-advanced equipment. Even if a robotic machine applies paint with an evenness that no human hand could achieve, it’s the people programming and operating that machine and checking its results who are the truly irreplaceable piece of the quality-control puzzle.