Printed Optics

Printoptical technology and the 3D printing of functional optics

3D printer

How a 3D printer builds

 

What is Printoptical© technology?

Printoptical technology is a unique form of 3D printing that  allows for the 3D printing of functional optical components such as lenses, both for prototype manufactuing as well as series production. This technology is applied mainly in the LED lighting industry at this moment. In this field, lighting fixtures are created digitally in order to test and verify designs. With most components this can be done fast and economically using 3D printing. With the optics it was a different story. This process was long and costly.

Now with printed optics by LUXeXceL, the optical component within a light fixture can also be 3D printed on demand, allowing optics to be created equally fast and flexibly as the rest of the lighting fixture’s components.

How does 3D printing work?

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:

 

  • Fast and flexible iterations
  • Shape complexity has no impact on production time and/or cost
  • There is no need to keep stock
  • Production is on demand. There is no need for inventory

 

You can also optimize each product for its application, there is no need for mass production to lower costs per product.

Why regular 3D printers can’t make printed optics that work.

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 often  too long. Another problem is that the costs for the creation of a mold can become substantial.

3D printed plastic optics don’t require the creation of a mold, and no post processing is needed, which when compared to injection molding gives it some advantages.

An alternative might be to use diamond 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. These are a few of the main reasons many producers and developers switch to printed optics for the optical component of their LED fixtures.

How are printed optics made with printoptical technology

functional printed optics

How optics can be 3D printed

Our optical components are made with a photopolymer material that is solidified with UV light. Our process guaranties high detail, excellent optical properties (scattering, total refraction, surface roughness) and high shape conformity.

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