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.
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.
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.