Printoptical technology is a unique form of 3D printing that allows for the 3D printing of functional optical components such as lenses.
3D printing has been around for many years. With traditional 3D printing techniques a product or component is built by adding layer upon layer. A 3D file with the design of the product is sent to a 3D printer. This 3D printer transforms the design into many layers. These individual layers are deposited by the 3D printer upon each other, to form the eventual design. Some of the advantages of this process are:
You can also optimize each product for its application, there is no need for mass production to lower costs per product.
Regular 3D printers can print in many different materials like different plastics, metals, or ceramics. Some of these materials are even transparent, but the technique used to build products with these materials, keeps it from building optics with the right specifications.
The shape of the end product can resemble a lens. After some post processing it might even look like a perfect lens. But it will not have the right properties. Properties like scattering and surface roughness need to be extremely low in order to make printed optics that can be used as a functional part. So far no other regular 3D printer has been able to do this.
Why print functional optics?
Of course there are other ways to manufacture optical components. One example is injection molding for optics, which means a mold is made for the shape of the optical product, which is then filled with a transparent material. This material solidifies, the mold is removed and an optic is ready. Even though this technology enables developers to make high quality optics, it has different disadvantages.
The creation of a mold is expensive and takes a long time. In some cases it can be weeks or even months, just to have an initial mold made.
For iterative development this is too long. Another problem is that the costs for the creation of a mold can become substantial. An alternative might be to use milling or diamond turning in order to create a component from a piece of transparent material. These techniques have more shape restrictions making it less attractive for complex shapes.
So with printed optics there is no need for upfront investments in these tooling settings, or in molds for each product. All that is needed are the design files, that can be loaded into the printer.
In order to make changes, only the file needs to be edited. A design can be reprinted on demand whenever needed. Changes can be made without high additional costs.
How are printed optics made with printoptical technology
Our optical components are made with a photopolymer material that is solidified with UV light. Our process guaranties extreme high detail,
excellent optical properties (scattering, total refraction, surface roughness) and high shape conformity.