A common mechanical failure in optical systems is inadequate stiffness in the supporting structure. Stiffness is crucial for maintaining alignment of the optical elements and achieving adequate performance. The mechanical engineer is responsible for providing adequate stiffness in the mechanical design.
Optical engineers prefer to evaluate the mechanical engineer’s design by moving it into their optical design codes. This involves moving the mechanical engineer’s CAD model into a structural analysis finite element code, subsequently moving the finite element results into an optical design code.
The optical engineers have developed interpreters and interpolators that facilitate their activity. This allows the optical engineer to observe the mechanical design’s influences on the optical image. The optical codes are generally large-displacement nonlinear solvers for the optical geometry. This process has two drawbacks for the mechanical engineer.
First, it requires a fairly complete CAD model of the system which only occurs relatively late in the mechanical engineering activity. Consequently, mechanical design deficiencies are uncovered late in the mechanical design process. Second, it is problematic to trace the optical effects back through the interpreters and interpolators to the mechanical design features that may be causing the optical problems. Therefore, mechanical design changes become difficult to formulate, rationalise and justify.
The optical engineers assume their large displacement non-linear codes are required to analyse the perturbations caused by mechanical deflections. However, permitted deflections of the optical elements are usually quite small, on the order of microns for structures of meter-sized dimensions.
For perturbations of this magnitude it may be shown that a non-linear solver is not required for engineering accuracies. In fact, it can be argued that the optical functions are more linear than the solid mechanics functions, of which the finite element method itself is but a linear simplification.
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