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IMTS 2016 Show Daily

Playing with Physics, Mitutoyo Focuses on Recent Acquisition

September 15, 2016 / , Associate Editor Modern Machine Shop

Physics geeks and metrology technicians alike may be interested in how Booth E-5215 reflects (or better, refracts) Aurora, Illinois-based Mitutoyo America Corp.’s recent acquisition of a controlling share in TAG Optics Inc. (Princeton, New Jersey). As a result, the inspection and measurement company is highlighting the startup’s tunable acoustic gradient (TAG) optics technology, which is said to eliminate the need for microscopes to repeatedly adjust the lens along the Z axis to look at different part heights. The booth is displaying a couple examples of TAG-enabled imaging techniques, such as multiplane imaging used to inspect parts, which often requires work at distinct heights. The demonstration shows how TAG optical technology can display many different object heights at the same time or even combined together into one two- or three-dimensional image.

The TAG lens actually uses sound to shape light, featuring ultra-high-speed focusing with large-aperture and near-diffraction-limited performance. It is said to be ideal for a variety of applications, ranging from part inspection to biological imaging and even machine vision.

Optics are generally constrained by the physics of the glass lens, says Mitutoyo Vice President of Measuring Instruments Michael Creney. He explains that TAG technology uses sound to enhance the optical capabilities of optical imaging systems. Whereas microscope lenses usually have such a narrow depth of focus that the operator must raise and lower the lens along the Z axis to focus on differing heights on the object being viewed, TAG technology extends the depth of focus while also providing precise Z height information suitable for fine measurement applications like surface mapping. So the TAG Lens “can actually accentuate what it sees below it and return all that information,” Creney says, whether it be an optical image or a physical height measurement. This information will be enhanced into what the company calls a volumetric imaging: “many different focuses stacked together so that basically, Z-axis focus is not required.” He says they have extended the depth of focus to as much as five feet in some machine vision tests.

Two potential applications are of particular note to Mitutoyo. First, TAG enables the simultaneous measurement of different heights and steps of three-dimensional objects without any mechanical movement. Another opportunity is in the biological field, wherein the technology would enable a microscope operator to view many different layers within cellular and subcellular samples.

Originally a lab outfit at Princeton University, TAG Optics was spun out as a startup in 2011 with the express goal of transitioning the tunable lens technology to commercial application. The relationship between Mitutoyo and TAG Optics began in February with an initial strategic partnership. Now having been acquired, TAG Optics functions in an R&D role within Mitutoyo. Mitutoyo’s interest is in eventually incorporating the startup’s lens technology into its microscope products. Creney expects that in the near future Mitutoyo customers will have access to TAG-enabled optical measuring and inspection systems. 

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