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New Assembly Processes Put Cameras in the Spotlight


Remember when cameras were these bulky objects that you had to carry around? Sure those vintage cameras seem romantic now, but try taking one on your next vacation and see how nostalgic it makes you feel!

Thankfully, advances in image sensory technology has morphed today’s cameras into versatile pieces of compact equipment that are used everywhere, from phones and cars, to appliances and security systems.

For instance, cameras are now such a standard part of mobile phones that it’s hard to imagine them without one. In fact, today’s phones can include up to three cameras that produce better images, offer advanced photographic effects, and feature cutting-edge options like facial recognition.

Meanwhile, researchers continue to take stereoscopic vision to new levels in automobiles, sometimes installing over 10 cameras in a single vehicle, creating full real-time situational awareness in three dimensions.

But while growth in camera demand across industries is impressive, it also presents new kinds of challenges for designers and manufacturers who constantly have to bring camera product to market with unique optical characteristics, ever-improving mechanical form factors, and superior image quality. All this, while keeping prices competitive!

For example, newer applications like autonomous vehicles need a higher image quality – which means higher assembly accuracy – and contain strict optical characteristics that often require large, cumbersome calibration and validation targets.

New Camera Assembly Processes a Game Changer

The camera assembly process usually begins with two components: the image sensor and the lens. The image sensor is usually a chip bonded to a PCB, while the lens is typically made up of one or more lenses enclosed in a housing. Each component is inspected for quality, cleaned for contamination, prepared for assembly with surface treatments, administered with adhesives, and then assembled and verified in a matter of seconds with sub-micron accuracy!

In the past, the variety of shapes, sizes, optical and electrical characteristics, meant that camera modules had to be tested and assembled using completely different machines, but not anymore!

New processes for standardizing camera module assembly are being developed to create scalable solutions that provide optimum performance now, but ensure the flexibility to meet future demands, all while making efficient use of manufacturing floor space.

Several factors are crucial for these new processes to run efficiently:

  • High Precision Prototype Fabrication: As soon as the first prototype runs, automated assembly becomes critical because high performance requires sub-micron accuracy and exceptional repeatability. This is only achieved with manufacturing machines that enable preliminary designs that are manufactured and validated in a high-precision process, allowing designers to iterate and optimize before freezing designs and scaling production.
  • Modular Manufacturing Flexibility: Camera modules are uniquely designed for their applications, which means they may differ in size, shape, optical properties, electrical connectivity, etc.  But modular manufacturing systems allow maximum flexibility and minimal retooling so a wide variety of parts can be handled within a common framework, minimizing the effort required to build new products.
  • Full Process Automation: In order to produce thousands of camera modules daily with optimal yield, you need full process automation conducted in a clean room environment, performed by precision robotics, and supported by high-speed testing. Maximum system throughput and high quality results can be achieved by integrating all process steps, combined with continuous quality monitoring.
  • Fast and Accurate Active Alignment: Fast algorithms that assess and correct alignment in all six degrees of freedom (X, Y, Z, α, β, γ) by analyzing image quality of real or virtual targets is another essential factor. Highly accurate mechatronics that position parts with sub-micron accuracy ensure high quality alignment for a wide variety of camera designs.
  • Precise Adhesive Dispensing and Curing: It’s essential that alignment is fixed with precision adhesive dispensing and UV (pre)curing. Adhesive droplets or beads need to be quickly and accurately dispensed and then inspected to ensure that both location and quality are optimal for the parts being assembled. UV curing secures the bond once alignment has been achieved. Meanwhile, intelligent feedback loops between inspection and assembly, combined with machine-learning algorithms ensure a consistent quality, while eliminating the influence of external parameters, such as adhesive viscosity and shrinkage, and final curing duration.
  • Concise Pre-Inspection and Assembly Verification: State-of-the-art optics, electronics, and mechatronics that assess component and process quality parameters are crucial at each stage of the camera module assembly process. Parts are inspected for function, contamination, adhesive placement and proper alignment, which maximize both quality and yield.
  • Unique Compact Manufacturing: Unique techniques for compact manufacturing and validation are increasingly important. These techniques require just a fraction of floor space and don’t compromise system serviceability. In a manufacturing environment where floor space is becoming a scarce resource, this is an important factor for camera modules with long focal lengths and large field-of-views that require precise alignment.

Averna is keenly aware of these factors and is actively supporting the design and manufacturing process of high precision optical devices.

Contact our engineers at any time at info@averna.com for advice on your manufacturing process and ways to accelerate new product introduction on equipment ranging from cameras and light sensors, to projection systems and speciality optical systems, almost everything except those vintage cameras, for that you’re on your own!