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Diamond turning is a process of mechanical machining of precision elements

using lathes or derivative machine tools (e.g., turn-mills, rotary transfers)

equipped with natural or synthetic diamond-tipped tool bits. The term single-
point diamond turning (SPDT) is sometimes applied, although as with other
lathe work, the "single-point" label is sometimes only nominal (radiused tool
noses and contoured form tools being options). The process of diamond turning
is widely used to manufacture high-quality aspheric optical elements
from crystals, metals, acrylic, and other materials. Optical elements produced by
the means of diamond turning are used in optical assemblies in telescopes, video
projectors, missile guidance systems, lasers, scientific research instruments, and
numerous other systems and devices. Most SPDT today is done with computer
numerical control (CNC) machine tools. Diamonds also serve in other machining
processes, such as milling, grinding, and honing

Diamond turning is a multi-stage process. Initial stages of machining are carried
out using a series of CNC lathes of increasing accuracy. A diamond-tipped lathe
tool is used in the final stages of the manufacturing process to achieve sub-
nanometer level surface finishes and sub-micrometer form accuracies. The
surface finish quality is measured as the peak-to-valley distance of the grooves
left by the lathe. The form accuracy is measured as a mean deviation from the
ideal target form. Quality of surface finish and form accuracy is monitored
throughout the manufacturing process using such equipment as contact and
laser profilometers, laser interferometers, optical and electron microscopes.
Diamond turning is most often used for making infrared optics, because at longer
wavelengths optical performance is less sensitive to surface finish quality, and
because many of the materials used are difficult to polish with traditional methods.
Temperature control is crucial, because the surface must be accurate on
distance scales shorter than the wavelength of light. Temperature changes of a
few degrees during machining can alter the form of the surface enough to have
an effect. The main spindle may be cooled with a liquid coolant to prevent
temperature deviations.
The diamonds that are used in the process are incredibly strong in the vertical
downward direction but very weak in the upward and sideways directions.
The machine tool[edit]
For best possible quality natural diamonds are used as single-point cutting
elements during the final stages of the machining process. A CNC SPDT lathe
rests atop a high-qualitygranite base with micrometer surface finish quality. The
granite base is placed on air suspension on a solid foundation, keeping its
working surface strictly horizontal. The machine tool components are placed on
top of the granite base and can be moved with high degree of accuracy using a
high-pressure air cushion or hydraulic suspension. The machined element is
attached to an air chuck using negative air pressure and is usually centered
manually using a micrometer. The chuck itself is separated from the electric
motor that spins it by another air suspension.
The cutting tool is moved with nanometer precision by a combination of electric
motors and piezoelectric actuators. As with other CNC machines, the motion of
the tool is controlled by a list of coordinates generated by a computer. Typically,
the part to be created is first described using a CAD model, then converted to G-
code using a CAMprogram, and the G-code is then executed by the machine
control computer to move the cutting tool.
[citation needed]
The final surface is achieved
with a series of cutting passes of decreasing depth.
Alternative methods of diamond machining in practice also include diamond fly
cutting and diamond milling. Diamond fly cutting can be used to
generate diffraction gratings and other linear patterns with appropriately
contoured diamond shapes. Diamond milling can be used to generate aspheric
lens arrays by annulus cutting methods with a spherical diamond tool.
Diamond turning is specifically useful when cutting materials that are viable as
infrared optical components and certain non-linear optical components such
as KDP. KDP is a perfect material in application for diamond turning, because
the material is very desirable for its optical modulating properties, yet it is
impossible to make optics from this material using conventional methods. KDP is
water soluble, so conventional grinding and polishing techniques are not effective
in producing optics. Diamond turning works well to produce optics from KDP.
Generally, diamond turning is restricted to certain materials. Materials that are
readily machinable include:

Aluminum and aluminium alloys
Electroless nickel plating on other materials
Infrared crystals
Cadmium sulfide
Cadmium telluride
Calcium fluoride
Cesium iodide
Gallium arsenide
Lithium niobate
Potassium bromide
Potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP)
Sodium chloride
Tellurium dioxide
Zinc selenide
Zinc sulfide
The most often requested materials that are not readily machinable are:

Silicon-based glasses and ceramics
Ferrous materials (steel, iron)
Nickel (except for electroless nickel plating)
Ferrous materials are not readily machinable because the carbon in the diamond
tool chemically reacts with the substrate, leading to tool damage and dulling after
short cut lengths. Several techniques have been investigated to prevent this
reaction, but few have been successful for long diamond machining processes at
mass production scales.
Quality control[edit]
Despite all the automation involved in the diamond turning process, the human
operator still plays the main role in achieving the final result. Quality control is a
major part of the diamond turning process and is required after each stage of
machining, sometimes after each pass of the cutting tool. If it is not detected
immediately, even a minute error during any of the cutting stages results in a
defective part. The extremely high requirements for quality of diamond-turned
optics leave virtually no room for error.
The SPDT manufacturing process produces a relatively high percentage of
defective parts, which must be discarded. As a result, the manufacturing costs
are high compared to conventional polishing methods. Even with the relatively
high volume of optical components manufactured using the SPDT process, this
process cannot be classified as mass production, especially when compared with
production of polished optics. Each diamond-turned optical element is
manufactured on an individual basis with extensive manual labor