Many devices require light pipes to bring illumination from LEDs to the point of use. In many cases, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) light pipe can accomplish the task with ease. But for some projects, only a customized part will do.

Here, we explain what can be customized within a light pipe, how it can benefit your design, and why customization might be easier than you expect.

Minor modifications to stock parts

Custom light pipes generally involve rigid designs formed by molding transparent or translucent plastics such as polycarbonate. Customization occurs on multiple levels to varying degrees. For example, our customers often request a light pipe with basic parameters like length, lens diameter, or shape that do not have an obvious stock part match.

After learning more about the application, we sometimes recommend a stock part that will meet requirements for performance, package, and budget. For example, a one-inch diameter light pipe may be able to substitute a 1.1-inch light pipe.

If there is no flexibility in the specifications, we may be able to make small changes to characteristics like length and manufacturing tolerance, resulting in a part that is as close as possible to standard. We consider these types of changes as a minor modification to the standard order rather than a fully customized part. As such, cost and lead time adjustments are typically minimal.

Customization for better results

While inquiries often start with a stock part, minor modifications are not always the best approach. Depending on the specifics of the device, application, and market, customization may deliver a better balance between cost and performance. This is particularly true for devices that use light pipes to provide competitive differentiation.

Tailored for demanding requirements

Innovative products may require innovative light-pipe solutions. Because rigid light pipes are molded, highly customized designs can require complete retooling. This is where our engineers steps in.

A well-defined customization workflow ensures our team finds the best possible solution in terms of cost, quality, and ease of manufacturing:

  1. Statement of work detailing requirements and performance
  2. Simulation and modeling, optical analysis, and prototyping
  3. Product reliability and failure-analysis testing
  4. Full documentation including certification and compliance for dock-to-stock operations.

A core element of our value proposition is our experts’ ability to analyze a potential project and determine the optimal path to success. Our team looks at questions like: Can the light be transmitted as desired? If not, is there a better way?

In some cases, small design changes yield an effective, practical solution. Something as simple as switching from a rigid light pipe to a flexible light pipe can be all that’s needed. Flexible light pipes are available in a range of lengths and can wind through complex paths with minimal loss.

In some projects, however, the solution will involve radically rethinking the light path and remaking a rigid light pipe. Our team will examine the layout and develop candidate solutions using ray tracing and optical analysis to study the light path and loss mechanisms. We work closely with the client to build prototypes, which undergo extensive performance and reliability testing.

Tips for success

A simple but critical rule is that just because a part can be customized in an exciting way, does not mean that it should be. Our expert team of optical designers can evaluate the project and run simulations to gain a better understanding of the possibilities.

Based on decades of experience, we may be able to suggest a solution that will deliver the desired performance in a less expensive or more easily manufactured device than originally planned.

When reaching out for the initial conversation, be prepared with the following project details:

  • What is your optical path?
  • What are your space constraints?
  • What are your performance requirements in terms of optical loss?
  • Do you have any environmental challenges in terms of temperature swings, contamination, or shock and vibration?
  • What are your tolerances in terms of physical dimensions and loss?

Don’t forget: optimizing a design isn’t simply a matter of cost. Lead time can be a critical factor. Getting a product to market even a few weeks in advance of the competition can increase market share. Plus, a part that supports fast and easy assembly will increase overall throughput.

Reliability is equally as important. It doesn’t just create a lasting product; it creates a lasting customer relationship.

A second important rule is get the process started early. Consulting with your vendor in the initial phases of your design process will give you an opportunity to better understand the universe of potential solutions and how they map to the constraints of your project.

To learn more about incorporating custom light pipe in your next design, contact your Bivar representative.

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