3D printing of ophthalmic lenses?

Luxexcel is the world leader in 3D printing of optics. The company started in 2009 and initially started to 3D print optics for illumination applications. Our unique and highly accurate technology allows us to rapidly print fully transparent materials with smooth surfaces without any polishing. Luxexcel today has a prototyping business, manufacturing optics for LED lighting, photonics, medical, aerospace, and automotive applications. Our continuous development efforts will bring us to imaging quality. We will reach ophthalmic quality in the course of next year.

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Lens production with 3D printing?

What will 3D printing bring as a manufacturing method? Conventional ophthalmic progressive lens production involves multiple machining steps in which material is subtracted from a lens blank through grinding, polishing, and edging. For years this technology has been used in the ophthalmic industry. The results are good lenses but at the expense of high inventory, complex finishing and a significant waste of material. The alternative to this method, additive manufacturing through 3D printing, is a new concept for the ophthalmic industry. It is a game-changer for the whole industry.

Ophthalmic Lens Manufacturing Process

Luxexcel technology solution

Luxexcel has developed a unique 3D print technology without any grinding or polishing. The technology brings: On-demand printed products, ready straight out of the printer, eliminating the need for polishing and inventory of semi-finished products. The technology has the potential to disrupt many industries, one of these industries is the ophthalmic industry. The Luxexcel team is making development steps every day and we are closing in on the required quality for ophthalmic lenses.

3D printing: changes the game

3D printing has already brought a revolution to a number of different industries. A frequently used example is hearing aids industry.  Within 5 years the main manufacturing technology has shifted from casting and manual finishing to 3D printing. Nowadays, a most hearing aids are 3D printed.  The eyewear industry is in many ways similar, custom products with a requirement for quick turnaround times at a competitive price.

The traditional industry has addressed these requirements by manufacturing semi-finished products in low-cost countries. The lenses are then shipped to the different markets for final processing to meet customer requirements. All at the expense of complexity in manufacturing and large inventories.
Luxexcel technology offers a much simpler solution, with a printer integrated into an ophthalmic lab requiring printing ink and generating the exact lens on the spot.

Subtractive manufacturing

Traditional subtractive manufacturing has been used since the ancient Egyptians. Today the process used for making ophthalmic lenses has been improved significantly. The fundamental principle for manufacturing an ophthalmic lens has however remained the same.  

To manufacture an ophthalmic lens, first a lens blank is manufactured in a large manufacturing plant in Asia. The blank is then shipped to the ophthalmic lab where it is stocked until required. When a certain lens prescription is prescribed for a patient the appropriate blank is selected from inventory and the finishing process is started. Excess materials are cut away to create the final shape of the part and the resulting lens is polished to obtain a smooth surface. The process requires many manual handling steps and more than 10 machine processing steps.  

Ophthalmic Lens Manufacturing Process

Around 80% of used materials is wasted in the cutting (grinding) process. Some of the used material in subtractive manufacturing can be re-used, like for example the heavy metals used for blocking of the lens for processing in the grinder and polisher. Subtractive manufacturing results in stockpiles of inventory and low yield. On top of that, the produced waste is not contributing to a more sustainable future.    

Ophthalmic Lens Manufacturing waste

Additive manufacturing

3D printing technology is a development which has come to maturity in very recent times. It has taken manufacturing to a new level in many industries by combining unlimited customization with large volumes, when required. Where traditional manufacturing technology is focused on large volumes of identical products, 3D printing allows individual products, in volume.   

3D printing has disrupted many industries by removing the requirements for identical products and allowing customization to individual needs.   

Currently, many different materials can be 3D printed for applications in automotive, aerospace or spectacle frames. The one elusive application has been optics, because of the requirements in transparency, surface smoothness and accuracy. Luxexcel has developed a technology which is very close to achieving the goals required by the ophthalmic industry.  

In contrast to subtractive manufacturing technologies, material is added to create a lens. 3D printing reduces industry expenses by combining efficiency and flexibility in the production flow. There is no need for stocking blanks, stock picking, blocking, taping, grinding, polishing, marking, de-blocking and de-taping. Multiple steps of traditional subtractive manufacturing technology can now be replaced with a single step: 3D printing of the ophthalmic lens.     

Luxexcel 3D printer

Improved solutions and novel functions

Luxexcel technology builds the lens from a lens design or prescription and builds the shape of both lens surfaces. This additional freedom from prescribed base curves allows to makes lenses, optimized for the patients prescription, for the frame selected and for the optical requirements. The technology allows optimization to the thinnest design possible.   

In addition, Luxexcel 3D print technology allows making flatter lenses in line with fashion requirements, a clear market opportunity.   

In the ophthalmic and electronic industry, several new trends are emerging, one of the most popular trends is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Also, embedded sensors and photochromic materials are continuously developing. If you combine this new technology with Luxexcel 3D printing technology a whole new league of improved products will emerge, where integrated sensors in the lens create new functionality and where active electronic layers provide new features.    

Luxexcel printing material

Luxexcel developed a material to manufacture lenses. Each lens is built from very small droplets of material which are merged together to create the lens. The material is acrylic in nature similar to typical materials used in ophthalmic lenses. Needless to say, the Luxexcel material passes the standard industry tests, like the drop ball test.  

The material has an Abbe number of 45 and a Refractive Index (RI) of 1.53. The specific weight is 1,15 g/cm3 lighter than most ophthalmic materials. Additional materials with higher refractive index are on the development roadmap.  

Ophthalmic Lenses Luxexcel

Coatings on lenses 

Most spectacle glasses have coatings applied to them to protect the lens and enhance the optical performance. Optical coatings that are frequently used are Hard Coating (HC), Anti-Reflective coating (AR) and UV coating. Luxexcel provides coating solutions through its partners for both spin coating and dip coating. The proposed coating solutions pass industry standard tests for adhesion, abrasion and scratching.  

What will Luxexcel 3D printing bring to the future of ophthalmic lenses and the ophthalmic industry?  

Getting perfect lenses to fit a prescription is essential for acquiring good vision. As a spectacle wearer, you want the most out of your eyeglasses. Every eye is different and every person is different, each ophthalmic lens should be tailor made for the user. 3D printing will open up new possibilities to customize lens designs to patient requirements.     

edged lens luxexcel

3D printing manufacturing technology will bring new levels of efficiency to the ophthalmic lab and will enable labs to operate without the burden of large inventory, large investments and long lead times from suppliers and to customers, while at the same time offering an attractive product to customers at competitive prices.  

Customization is one of the elements which can be changed by making use of 3D printing. However, other solutions and innovations are on the horizon. What will be possible is hard to predict, however 3D printing will definitely become vital to the eyewear industry, by removing design limitations and offering new features. This will open up new possibilities to create unique ophthalmic lenses and eyeglasses.   

If you are an ophthalmic lab and you would like to learn more about the latest status of our technology. Please do not hesitate to contact us.   

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