In this chapter, we provide some background information on plastic optics, including a brief history of their development, as well as recent advances in materials, machining, and manufacturing processes. We also discuss issues that may determine if plastic optics should be used for a particular application, as well as their potential advantages and disadvantages.
Plastic optics have existed for longer than most currently practicing engineers. In 1936, after several years of development, the Rohm and Haas Company announced the commercial availability of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), now commonly referred to as acrylic, under the trade name Plexiglas. In the same year, DuPont began commercial production of its acrylic material, known as Lucite. In Britain, the Imperial Chemical Industries PLC introduced its version, which was called Perspex. The following year, Dow Chemical introduced polystyrene in the United States under the name STYRON.
Plastic lenses appeared around the same time, along with colorful marketing campaigns and disagreements over their invention. In London, on March 20, 1934, the KGK Syndicate Ltd. was formed between Peter Maurice Koch de Gooreynd and Arthur Kingston; just under four years later, in February 1938, the partnership was dissolved. The Wellcome Library, also in London, houses copies of documents concerning the partnership, as well as a copy of a letter from Kingston's lawyer regarding a dispute between the partners over who deserved credit for inventing the plastic optical lens. It seems that a BBC radio broadcast stated that Koch de Gooreynd was the inventor of the plastic lens, a claim that Kingston disagreed with.
In 1937, TIME magazine published an article describing competition between U.S., British, and German firms to substitute glass lenses with plastic lenses in cameras, eyeglasses, and binoculars. It is noted that shortly before the article's printing, Gooreynd (of the KGK Syndicate) appears in New York and bounces lenses on the table to show their fracture resistance. A few weeks later, in Los Angeles, a Rohm and Haas customer named E. G. Lloyd goes even further, putting on a dramatic exhibition for the press by taking a hammer to his lenses. Despite the impressive displays, these early lenses suffered from several problems, such as low scratch resistance and discoloration. Nevertheless, the field of plastic optics had begun in earnest.
With materials available, the manufacturers searched for markets to buy them. For instance, Rohm and Haas produced a few acrylic musical instruments, including a flute and a violin.
Online access to SPIE eBooks is limited to subscribing institutions.