Engineers have a bright future in 3D printing & optics
The optical industry is one of the most exciting industries affected by additive manufacturing, as well as one of the oldest. The earliest known lenses were made from polished crystal in 750 BC and though we’ve seen upgrades to the industry over the centuries thanks to engineering, we are at the brink of an amazing breakthrough! 3D printers, both professional and desktop, are pushing the boundaries of what can be done. Today we are going to discover how this industry is being democratized before our eyes.
In this article we will uncover the benefits of 3D printing technology on lens + frame manufacturing, while at the same time discovering how the ocular medical industry is shifting thanks to the technology. We also dissect how LED lighting and virtual reality have utilized additive manufacturing to make giant leaps in the optical industry.
The world of optics and lens manufacturing has traditionally been closed off to non-experts; the methodology used to create lenses, frames, LED lighting and etc, has remained inaccessible due to the cost of entry. It wasn’t until about 2009 that 3D printing was introduced to the optics industry, and around this time is when 3D printed plastic optics started it’s evolutionary process. Lenses made with additive manufacturing techniques do not require the creation of a mold, they seldom require support material, and in some cases there is no need for post processing. Let’s begin by chatting with one of the trailblazers at the intersection of optics and 3D printing, LUXeXcel; President of LUXeXcel Richard van de Vrie has provided us with an interview of his company, and general insight into the 3D printing and optics sector.
Interview with President of LUXeXcel Richard van de Vrie
Richard when did you start your company LUXeXceL and why?
In my previous family owned company we manufactured LED lighting fixtures on a private label base for many Lighting OEMs. There we faced very long product development cycles in a fast improving LED market. For every LED we needed optics to distribute the right properly. Either you buy a standard part and every competitor can copy your product fast or you make your own lenses. But that meant we had to faced huge upfront investment in tools and inventory of lenses for every lighting fixture. And after one year, when we were ready with the fixture development, the customers’ product manager already came in and instructed us to upgrade the fixtures’ light source to the newest standards. This caused a huge write-offs and we had to waste of many obsolete parts. In 2008 we sold our company and I founded LUXeXceL in October 2009 with the mission to digitize the optics manufacturing.
How does LUXeXceL manage to print smooth surfaces without post-processing? Can you explain a bit more what you do?
Yes, we thought about a water droplet. Such droplet has perfectly smooth surfaces. So we invented a new base technology that is jetting droplets on demand. Our own software that follows the design or an optic part, is instructing the printer either to “freeze” a droplet as a “lego” building block or to let the droplet flow to create the smooth surface necessary for optics. In this way we make 3-dimensional smooth parts without post processing.
What kind of printer do you use?
With standard available parts combined with our own software and algorithms we developed our latest precision printer that is meant for both rapid protyping and fast volume manufacturing. Just to give you an rough idea, today our printer can produce about 300 lenses with a diameter of 50mm and a height of 5mm and from some smaller optical components even over 2000 pcs. per hour.
What kind of printing material do you use and how long does the process take?
We have developed our own PMMA equivalent “Opticlear” material. When you had to mold, you have huge upfront investments and inventory risks, so a lens designer is very careful and has to be fully sure about the quality of his work. Iterations are very expensive and cannot be made easy but are often necessary.
Now with LUXeXceL’s additive manufacturing process, with one mouse-click start the manufacturing all in a matter of days!
Can you tell us about how and where are optics and lenses all being used today?
Sure! There are optics everywhere. In your lighting, TV, phone, car, drone or even in the buttons of your coffee machine, the optical parts are of increasing importance for many end products throughout different industries. There is a rising demand to tailor optics for every application, project or even single product. Optics and lighting experts are very sure that the use of custom optics will reduce Light Pollution significantly!
Will this technology reach the ophthalmic quality necessary for Eyewear?
Today we focus primarily on non-imaging lighting and photonics lenses but our progress goes fast and the optical researchers of the University of Eastern Finland measured that our surface roughness is not so far anymore from imaging quality. So to reach that is definitively on our roadmap! For sure it would be great if you could scan you eye and immediately your custom pair of glasses could be printed!
Interested in engineering a lens or frame for yourself? We have compiled the information you need in this one section
We spoke with Robb Godshaw, San Franciscan robotics engineer & sculptor. Robb is currently an artist in residence at Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshop, and with that we interviewed him to gain his expertise on 3D modeling lenses. There are many software packages that do ray tracing, including some free ones. Robb chose Rhino and Neon, and they both costs money, but he says that the T-Splines plugin makes it extremely simple to design smooth lens geometries. Any modeling software with ray tracing will do. You could use Fusion 360, Blender, or Maya. He recommends putting a familiar object like a face in the scene as a point of reference. For examples of this recommendation take a look at Robb’s instructable on modeling lenses. To hear our exclusive audio interview with Robb, Sculpteo will be releasing our premier podcast episode with Robb, we will upload here with the link.
Use this Blender algorithm to create spare parts for your broken frames
Software engineer Jenny Cheng created a Blender algorithm (find the script here on GitHub) which allows you to easily replicate a pare of frames. All you need to do is take a photo of the front view of any pair of glasses; you need to first load the script into your free Blender software, import the .jpeg photo and the script will create an SVG (scalable vector graphics) workable mesh replica for you. It’s perfect for beginners because it’s so simple and it’s perfect for veterans because it saves loads of time. One of the only labor-intensive elements of this script is the manual insertion of the lens grooves, see below. If you’re inserting prescription lenses into your frame make sure to follow Jenny’s Blender instruction for manually inserting the lens grooves, here.
Let’s take a look at 3D Printing Lenses with magnifying capabilities
While it’s almost impossible to sand an SLA lens from a desktop 3D printer with enough precision to achieve ophthalmic quality, it is possible to create a very low quality magnifying glass. An experiment was completed by the engineers at FormLabs which proved that sanding and polishing an SLA 3D printed lens can refract light and cause objects to be magnified. The lens had to be created with an insert for a drill bit in the back so that the post processing time could be cut down by utilizing a power drill to spin the lens while sanding. You can see from the images within the article that the lens starts out as nearly 10 times larger than the final object, and you can also see that the lens clearly magnifies.
Fall of last year Sculpteo gave away magnifying beads that sat in a 3D printed clip, the clip was fully customizable and fit over any smartphone camera lens. The function of this clip was to hold the bead in place over the smartphone camera lens, and by opening the camera app on the smartphone was capable of magnification. This was perfect for any task that required a magnifying glass and light source all rolled into one. At Sculpteo it is our mission to assist you with your prototyping and final manufacturing projects, we are the only full-service 3D printing company with a suite of tools to help you make your 3D printed dreams become reality. To learn more about how our services can help you, we welcome you to visit our page all about additive manufacturing before opening your account and uploading your model.
Let’s shift our focus to the medical industry, LED lighting and Virtual Reality
ENGINEERS IN THE MEDICAL INDSUTRY
While 3D printing has been successfully used in the health care sector to make custom hearing aids, dental fixtures and prosthetic limbs, the technology is now being used to create prosthetic eyeballs. Advanced Artificial Eyes is a company that is doing exactly that, they use a high quality full color 3D printer to customize their prosthesis eye color and shape; ill-fitted eye prosthesis are not only uncomfortable but they can also lead to long-term facial deformity. With high-resolution printers, ocularists can print custom eyes with multicolored iris, to match the original eye color or even match the parents’ eyes if a child is born needing a prosthetic. The digital eyes designed by ocularist John Stolpe are so detailed that Fast Company magazine has deemed them “works of art”, and while Stolpe believes he works in the “ultimate niche industry” dominated by an older generation that is hesitant to accept that a machine is better than painting by hand, he insists “it is essential to shift the field from painting to printing”.
ENGINEERS IN LED LIGHTING
LED lighting is increasing not only in popularity but also in conversations about it’s advantages over traditional “incandescent” light bulbs one company is making a name for themselves by creating something they are calling “light paper”. Rohinni’s has created the world’s thinnest LED lighting source, the goal is to allow its users to apply it to nearly any surface and in any shape. The paper-thin LED lit surface is made by mixing ink and tiny LEDs together and then printing the mixture out on a conductive layer. This layer is then sealed between two additional layers. The tiny diodes are about the size of a red blood cell. When a current is run through the paper, the tiny diodes light up.
ENGINEERS IN VIRTUAL REALITY
The world of virtual reality is booming and many people are watching very closely to see what leaps and bounds are being made in this sector, a relativelty new company to VR is getting a ton of attention for it’s wild claims and that company is IonVR. As I said they are a relatively new to Virtual Reality (VR) and their device that looks like many other small-batch headsets. It’s a 3D-printed box whose front plate can fit a smartphone but the reason why it’s so popular is its promise to “nearly eliminate” motion sickness experienced by VR users. The secret is that they are using optical technology/software called MotionSync. IonVR has recently partnered with Intel and both companies are planning to ambitiously takeover the mobile industry.
As we reflected on the strides that have been made with 3D printing and optics it’s important to know that all of these companies began with an idea, and as engineers we strive to make products that are useful to our customers and clients, or just to ourselves. Whatever your idea Sculpteo would like to help you make it a reality. Check out here what we are already doing for the optic industry. If you’d like to speak with us about how to get started call us toll free at 1-800-814-1270 (US) or +33 1 83 64 11 22 (FR).