Optical Alignment

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    If your company uses innovative equipment for production and fabrication purposes, you must learn the working and importance of optical alignment. Learning the appropriate application of revolutionary tools and techniques can help users save money, time, and equipment. Maximize the reliability and benefits of your machinery by having a clear understanding of optical and precision learning.

    Here’s a brief guide to precision and optical alignment and their uses:

    Optical Alignment

    Optical alignment plays an integral role in maximizing the efficiency and life span of innovative instruments used in the machine alignment field. Optical alignment tools help identify precision measurement within an industrial setting. These robust, rugged, and powerful tools are highly accurate- varying from one arc second to over 17 feet.

    Optical alignment tooling is growing increasingly popular as optomechanical engineers choose the tool for many applications, such as:

    • Converting and Corrugating Facilities
    • Paper Mills
    • Power Generating Plants
    • Steel Mills

    Benefit from the precision and reliability of optical alignment methods by learning the ins and outs of optical precision:

    Optical Instrument

    Optical instruments help optomechanical engineers establish a reference line of sight. By identifying the LOS, engineers can collimate or collineate other tools. Typically, users fit optical instruments within the machine’s baseline.

    Sight Level

    Sight levels are optical instruments leveraged to measure machine components to earth conditions.

    Telescopic Transit Square

    Another revolutionary optical instrument, TTS, comprises two optical systems arranged at 90o. TTS systems help create an accurate perpendicular LOS.

    What are Some Useful Optical Alignment Terminologies?

    Get a clear understanding of optical alignment by learning the following must-know terminologies:


    A baseline refers to a parallel reference line representing the centerline of a machine.

    Brass Plug

    Brass plugs are monuments embedded within the base of your optical instrument. It typically comprises an affixed prick punch mark.

    Line of Sight

    LOS refers to a line your optical instrument projects to take precise measurements.

    Optical Scale

    Optical scale is a revolutionary device boosting accurately positioned increments. An optical scale helps measure optically.

    Optical Target

    Another innovative device is inserted within a stainless steel target bushing that engineers can measure by leveraging optical tooling.

    Stick on Target

    Stick-on targets are adhesive-backed optical targets used by engineers in places where permanently fixed target bushings are impractical.

    A Quick Glance at Precision Alignment

    Misalignment and unbalance in rotating machines can cause vibration. Increased vibration equals more maintenance and reduced machine life. But by using appropriate alignment and balancing tools, engineers can reduce maintenance, increase efficiency, and increase the lifespan of their machinery.

    Precision alignment helps ensure:

    • Reduced Energy Consumptions
    • Reduced Bearing and Coupling Temperatures
    • No breaking or Cracking Shafts

    What is Precision Alignment?

    Machinery in charge of producing things tends to become less and less efficient. It occurs when parts inside the tools start wearing down and misaligning. Precision alignment helps realign machinery to ensure it can do its job effectively and efficiently.

    How Does Precision Alignment Work?

    Trained professionals perform precision alignment by utilizing revolutionary tools. Engineers typically use manual and automated tools that rely on laser technology.

    Either way, the goal is to bring the equipment back into alignment.

    What is Shaft Alignment?

    Shaft alignment refers to the positioning of the rotational centers of multiple shafts such that they are collinear. Proper alignment depends on the total indicator reading and the appropriate centers of rotation of the shaft supporting members.

    These are two significant components of alignment:

    Offset Alignment

    Offset alignment is the distance between the shaft centers of rotation. Engineers may measure parallel or offset alignment at the coupling center.

    Angular Alignment

    Angular alignment refers to the difference between the slopes of a shaft to that of the mating shaft. The measurements of angular alignment are rise/run, and its units are mils/inch.

    What are the Different Procedures in Optical Alignment?

    Let’s discuss the different procedures involved in optical alignment:


    Buck-in refers to the process of setting a LOS parallel to two reference points like SSTBs or BPs.


    Collimation is the process of aligning so that their LOS’s are parallel, not coincident.


    On the other hand, Collineation refers to setting optical instruments, so their LOS coincide.


    Planizing refers to setting an optical instrument’s LOS parallel to a given plane.

    What are the Benefits of Optical Alignment?

    Optical alignment is critical for maximizing the reliability and accuracy of various revolutionary tools. The benefits of optical alignment include:

    Rapid and Reliable Positioning

    Multi-channel active alignment tools enable engineers to conduct parallel or simultaneous adjustments of multiple elements. Active alignment equipment boosts unique control algorithms that communicate with metrological and positional equipment. This way, the controller firmware within optical alignment instruments makes autonomous adjustments to multiple elements. Within seconds, active alignment tools identify the optimal position of each element to achieve maximum optimization and overall performance. It leads to a substantial increase in optical manufacturing.

    Cost-Effective and Space Saving

    Realigning production tools via optical alignment improves speed and cuts down manufacturing costs. Consumers expect manufacturers to offer reduced costs despite optical devices becoming increasingly complex. Fortunately, active optical alignment technology’s speed, efficiency, and accuracy can help engineers reduce operating costs without compromising quality.

    Ultra-Precision Alignment

    Engineers can program multi-channel active alignment systems for micro-and nanoscale adjustments. It enables the optimization of signal peaks within seconds. Thus, active optical alignment systems are especially beneficial in complex alignment situations where interdependences can cause reduced performance or signal degradation.

    Higher Yield Manufacturing

    Leveraging parallel optical alignment technology allows engineers to consolidate complex optimizations of multiple optical elements within a single step. It eliminates the need to improve the performance in a trial-and-error fashion. Moreover, it guarantees cost reductions and quality improvements by reducing potential compromises in performance.

    What are the Benefits of Precision Alignment?

    Precision alignment helps engineers produce products safely, accurately, and efficiently. It also enables them to reduce the wearing down of machinery and equipment. This way, you won’t have to worry about making costly repairs.

    Moreover, precision alignment offers the following benefits:

    • Increasing the availability of machinery and equipment
    • Improving the service life of bearings and seals
    • Reducing leakage and spills to create a better and safer working environment
    • Less risk of overheating and secondary damage
    • Decreased lubricant consumption and wastage
    • Eliminating soft foot that reduces the reliability of rotating machinery
    • Reduced vibration and noise level
    • Less chance of severe breakdowns and repairs
    • Boosting overall savings by ensuring fewer spare parts, less unscheduled downtime, and lower energy consumption
    • Unscheduled downtime can be heavy on your pocket. Luckily, precision alignment tools help reduce production downtime

    Let’s discuss the top benefits of precision alignment in-depth:

    Reduced Energy Consumption

    Accurate alignment of product and manufacturing machinery helps ensure significant power savings. Appropriate alignment eliminates stresses on the shaft, resulting in a 10% reduction in energy consumption.

    Fewer Incidences of Repairs

    Optomechanical engineers who conduct precision alignment daily can reduce potential mechanical seal repairs by a whopping 65%. Engineers can also decrease the rate of repairs by approximately 30% by conducting precision laser alignment processes. Moreover, realigning machinery and production equipment allow engineers to lower maintenance costs.

    Longer Machine Life

    By reducing the offset misalignment, engineers can increase the expected life cycle of production and manufacturing equipment.

    Mechanical Alignment vs. Optical Alignment

    Mechanical alignment refers to the standard, most straightforward way of mounting a lens. In this type of alignment, engineers either apply adhesive-backed targets or use retaining rings. This way, optomechanical engineers remove the shims quickly and efficiently. But achieving accurate centration in mechanical alignment is a long and exhausting process.

    On the other hand, the optical alignment method focuses on the performance of a lens relative to its mechanical mount. It involves leveraging the ‘active’ alignment process that compensates for errors introduced by component fabrication. Unlike mechanical alignment, the active optical method offers tight tolerances without requiring multiple components attributes.

    Laser Precision Alignment vs. Traditional Precision Alignment

    Laser alignment tools are more accessible, faster, and more accurate than dial gauges and rulers. The fact is that dial gauges require extensive experience, training, and complicated calculations to become functional. But laser measurement equipment can automatically indicate a good alignment. Moreover, setting up laser alignment machinery is comparatively quicker and easier than a dial gauge. It’s also more reliable since fixtures for dial gauges typically drop a little, resulting in errors.

    Another potential cause of reduced accuracy in dial gauges is that it comprises small scales. These scales make it challenging for engineers to read in cramped and poor light conditions. Overall, traditional alignment tools are no longer sufficient for analyzing and realigning state-of-the-art machines. Using laser alignment precision equipment ensures accurate results within less time.

    What are the Applications of Laser Alignment?

    Laser alignment tools are super diverse and offer the following industry alignment applications:

    Straightness and Linear Measurement

    Laser alignment helps engineers’ measure straightness quickly and efficiently.

    Squareness and Perpendicularity Measurement

    Optomechanical engineers can measure squareness and perpendicularity by redirecting a laser beam.

    Parallelism Measurement

    Laser micro-gauge enables users to establish parallel reference lines within 0.001-inch. It has many applications across production equipment and web and roll industries.

    Flatness and Planar Measurement

    Laser alignment tools help measure surface flatness. It includes a precision rotating base and a digital receiver.

    Machine Leveling

    Since laser beam can extend over considerable distances, laser alignment tools include a 10-arc-second precision that transfers a level, horizontal orientation.

    Shaft Alignment

    Laser alignment equipment tools enable optomechanical engineers to identify the ideal shaft placement.

    Shaft alignment is also helpful in locating extrusion screws and positioning rams in press bores.

    Precision Angular Alignment

    By leveraging laser alignment tools, engineers can achieve precise angular alignment adjustments between 1 degree and 0.0001 degrees.

    Roll Alignment

    Roll alignment is ideal for shaft placement, positioning rams in press bores, and other bore alignment applications.

    Additional Alignment

    Laser precision alignment tools also offer the following applications:

    • Aligning bearings and belts and drive systems
    • Adjusting large web systems and roller and guide assemblies
    • Assessing machinery clearance and wear
    • Assembling long machinery runs
    • Checking milling and cutting stations and injection molding machines
    • Gauging large parts and assemblies
    • Locating gantry rails and cross bridges
    • Measuring structural and shaft deflections
    • Precision surveying
    • Realigning shafts and transmissions

    How Accurately Should You Align a Machine?

    The required accuracy of an instrument or equipment depends on its performance and speed. Moreover, you must check the machine’s or component manufacturer’s specifications. Remember that perfectly aligned types of machinery ensure maximum productivity when they rotate at the ideal speed and temperature. Slight misalignment may put seals and bearings under pressure and cause rapid wear and tear.

    Let’s discuss the accuracy of different indicator readings:

    Sagging Indicator Brackets

    Engineers must measure sag before alignment readings, whether the bracket appears solid and straight.

    Low Resolution

    Low resolution may lead to a 0.2 reading error, resulting in a 1.6 mil error in calculations.

    Sticking/Jumping Dial Hands

    Indicator hysteresis requires engineers to tap or bump the dial indicator to receive the final and accurate readings.

    Unfortunately, this leads to errors and compromises in the accuracy of readings.

    Play in Mechanical Linkages

    Slight and easy-to-miss looseness in equipment is easy to miss but can cause significant errors in results.

    Reading Errors

    Human errors occur under time pressure, faulty equipment, poorly lit labs, and external forces. These errors can cause significant misalignment.

    Tilted Dial Indicator

    If engineers fail to mount the indicator perpendicular to the measurement surface, they may lose part of the displacement reading.

    Axial Shaft Play

    Unless optomechanical engineers use two axially mounted indicators simultaneously, angular readings will always be inaccurate.

    The Importance of Optical Alignment

    Optical alignment tools play an integral role in enhancing manufacturing and production tools’ reliability, efficiency, and productivity. They also help engineers boost the overall performance, productivity, and ROI of their facility. Then integrate optical and precision equipment to produce better quality products through reduced vibration. It also helps lower waste, ensures less pollution, and increases production by preventing shaft seal failures, leaks, and spills.

    Read more about MWM’s industrial construction expertise and services. We have a vetted group of sub-contractors and partnerships with various engineering and architectural firms for complete design-build applications.

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