In recent years, 3D Printing has charted a course up Gartner's 'peak of inflated expectations', down the 'trough of disillusionment' and perhaps now it is reaching the 'escarpment of enlightenment'. This simply means that the hype surrounding 3D printing could be finally abating to reveal companies that have developed practical and clever solutions for the technology with real life, high value applications. In this blog we talk to Guido Groet who is Chief Commercial Officer at Luxexcel who explains about their technology which is about 3D printing of ophthalmic lenses, using inkjet.
Guido please me about the company, where did the idea come from?
The company started in 2009 to develop lenses for all kind of illumination applications. Today we have a business doing prototyping for many different applications in aerospace, automotive, illumination, industrial and medical.
Where 3D printing can make the biggest impact is, where there is a need for unique products. We have found that market in ophthalmic lenses, where many lenses are unique to a user depending on the prescription, the frame and the user case.
What is your dream for the business and the product?
Revolutionize the eye glass business! If you look in any optics shop, all frames basically look the same, sure colour changes, and some have exciting brands, but they do look the same. The reason for that is that the whole industry has found what works best within the limitations of the current manufacturing technology of lenses. With 3D printing you are eliminating most of those limitations. Many people are already changing the look of the frames, but they are all still limited by the optics, and that is what we are going to change.
Tell me more about the kind of technology?
We use an inkjet technology to build lenses with UV curable materials. Each lens is built by accurately positioning many drops of material exactly where they are needed. Our technology is accurate because we use very very small droplets, and our technology is fast because we create many droplets in parallel.
What kind of heads are used for this?
We use various print heads depending on what the product is we are creating.
What has been the biggest technical challenge?
Fulfilling 100% of the requirements while at the same time creating a unique product. You need to achieve a minimum quality level while not allowing to be bogged down into making a me-too product.
What are the commercial advantages this gives the traditional optician?
Smaller inventory of semi-finished product, fewer process steps (traditional technology requires about 20 process steps), no expensive polishing, quick turnaround times, reduction of waste by a factor 100(!), more customization, unique designs both for fashion as well as for optics. It is a no brainer for the ophthalmic industry to use 3D printing. It is up to us to make sure the technology is reliable and available.
What are the commercial barriers to getting this technology more widely used?
Ophthalmics is a very traditional industry where several large companies dominate the space and drive up prices, while at the same time stifling innovation. You can imagine those players do not like their world to be shaken. The independent players, and the world of retail love what we offer.
We discussed in more detail the approach and Giudo explained more
R&D efforts are focused on imaging optics used for example eye glasses. So now running user tests for eyeglasses.
The technology is inkjet technology. To make the lense they use an acrylic. They then cure the drops in place, and the substance turns from a monomer into polymer and the drop of liquid turns into a solid. It is extremely precise.
The reason it is so precise is they use very small droplets and it is fast because many drops are used at the same time. Spectacle lenses contain 2 billion droplets. The material is strong and transparent. The trick is enabling full transparency without seeing the individual droplets. By letting the droplets flow into one another you don’t see them and the lense is made to be very clear.
As it is made using very small droplets the lenses do not need polishing.
The unique commercial advantages is that it reinvents the process. Currently the industry will follow a process where the prescription is taken, the frames chosen, then the lenses get sent off to an Ophthalmic lab.
This lab will have standardised semi-finished lenses that will work it into your need. Ophthalmic lenses will already be in stock ready to be adapted.
Luxexcel technology is different in that the lenses can be printed to order to fit any design. The traditional method is quite limiting for glasses design and requires many machines, a large inventory and of course time. The Luxexcel method features one machine, with less cost and less inventory and product that is available very quickly. And you can make different types of lenses right there on spot and be creative, outlandish or simply very personalised and precise.
Because of the traditional limitations, all eye glasses look similar because they are constrained by the standard layout of a lense. This means that design must align with current production technology and is standardised to suit the process, not the person. With this system you can make many more different shapes of lenses both from an optics point of view an from a design point of view.
For example, we recently spoke with a company that specialise in golfing glasses. And with our system you can have different prescriptions to suit different sides of the lense. Not just ‘bi-focal’ but 'any focal' allowing a golfer to see properly out of the corner of their eye.
For further information:
Communication Manager - Luxexcel
T: +31 (0) 113 22 44 00
Slachthuisstraat 112 box 5 ▪ 2300 ▪ Turnhout ▪ Belgium