Everyone is talking about 3D printing these days and its numerous applications. 3D printed eyewear has been around for several years, but it is still a niche product. The core value proposition of 3D printing is its ability to create individual custom parts, which makes the fabrication of optical frames and now even lenses an intriguing prospect. The ability to create bespoke medical devices, tailored to an individual’s specific anatomy is one reason 3D printing has such a significant application for the optical industry. Dresden Optical in Sydney (created by innovative Go Get Car Share founder Bruce Jeffrey) commenced its operations in 2015 by printing 3D frames in store but after a relatively short period moved to injection mold production like most other frame manufacturers.
Only last week Luxexcel received approval from the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) for their innovative 3D printed optical lenses. Headquartered in Belgium, Luxexcel produces 3D printed optical lenses using their Printoptical technology. These lenses do not require polishing and reduce the number of waste products associated with traditional lens manufacturing. To complement their lenses and to give an all-round offering to the industry, they have teamed up with Materialise and Hoya Vision to produced 3D printed frames
To us, this seems some way off becoming a viable proposition, as only last year Eyetalk attended a printing technology show and viewed the array of 3D printers and noted their applications in manufacturing in many industries. There were huge savings to be made in manufacturing processes for example when component parts could be printed and tested before creating metal machine parts.
However we noted that the minimum investment for a mid range machine was about $40K, but this could only produce approx 6 optical frames at a time, which made the option of mass manufacture at this stage unrealistic. In addition, the quality of the optical frames that had been printed looked unattractive, the edges were rough and quality was quite poor. From this perspective the technology has a way to go.
On the flip side, Monoqool who are based in Denmark can produce 200x 3D printed glasses within 24 hours (see image) and the quality via their web site appears better than we viewed at the printing exhibition (click here to view) .
At this stage 3D eyewear is definitely an option for bespoke frames and that is where it is currently placed in the market – as a small niche and still a novel concept. When 3D printing becomes reliable enough this could be the way of the future and customers could create their own frames to fit their faces perfectly. It will be interesting to monitor the development of this technology as l am sure once they get it right, it will take off rapidly and as an industry we need to be on top of it – exciting times ahead!