How 3D printing creates prescription lenses for smartglasses

by Guido Groet – Chief Strategy Officer Luxexcel

I often get the question: How does your 3D printing technology embed smart features inside a prescription lens? Before I answer this question and get to the ‘how’, I’d like to explain to you the ‘why?’.

Luxexcel set out with a vision to make eyewear of the future. We wanted to make a difference by combining prescription lenses with technology. We invented a platform to 3D print lenses in 2009. Since then, our team of chemists and technologists re-engineered our 3D printing technology. During this process, they gained knowledge of the material and also the ink-delivery system.

We achieved a major milestone by printing the first-ever ophthalmic prescription lens. We then advanced our 3D printing technology to manufacture prescription lenses that include smart devices. At that point, we realized that we could innovate the eyewear industry with a product that 4-billion people wear every day.

How do we integrate smart electronics in 3D printed lenses?

Our technologies are unique in the world, so I won’t be able to disclose all the details. However, let me start by explaining how our 3D printing technology manufactures prescription lenses – it’s very different from the 3D printing that you may be familiar with.

Our ink is a liquid that we jet onto a substrate. The droplets are tiny, picolitre sized, and there are one billion drops per lens. We apply the drops in a very precise way to produce high-quality lenses. The lenses don’t need to be polished after they’re printed because they’re already smooth.

During the manufacturing process, it’s possible to insert a functional device made of glass or plastic inside the lens. The device could be a holographic film, a LCD screen, or a waveguide. The device is embedded during the printing process, and prescription or other optical imaging effects are built around it.

It’s as simple as printing one part of the lens, stopping the process momentarily, positioning the device correctly onto the lens, and continuing to print layers on top. The result is then finished according to our partner’s desired outcomes, for example as part of AR/ VR glasses.

3D printing smart glasses

Applications of smart eyewear

In the same way ‘smart’ was brought to phones, we enable partners to combine smart technology and prescription eyewear. The integration of smart devices creates numerous possibilities for smartglasses manufacturers, for example, to integrate a LED light into conventional eyewear. The light could be used to alert users of notifications when they receive an email, or with detection of movement when there are obstacles in the road while they’re cycling.

A more advanced version of smart eyewear is to integrate specific optics to project images into the eye for example an LCD screen inside the lens, or a waveguide. In this way, it’s possible to provide the user with complex information, such as navigation.

Watch our Webinar to learn more about the applications of our 3D printing technology in smart eyewear.

3D printing enables smart eyewear

Our 3D printing technology manufactures smart eyewear with prescription powers, which doesn’t impact on the size of the glasses. When electronics are integrated into the lens the entire device becomes thinner and lighter and reduced to the weight for everyday wearing. Additionally, during the printing process, the electronic device is fully protected. Dust or humidity can’t reach the device, because it’s fully encapsulated.

Finally, while we were focused on developing a 3D printing solution that could manufacture revolutionary lenses, we also wanted to fulfill our vision to enable our partners to provide smart eyewear to the mass consumer market. We therefore included our 3D printing solution as part of our volume manufacturing platform. Now it’s easy to manufacture smart prescription eyewear: an operator requests users’ customized prescription on our platform’s user interface, click ‘print’, and step away to perform another task while the printer mass produces lenses in customized optical powers.

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