Oct 7, 2016 | By Alec

It’s been quite a silent revolution, but 3D printed glasses are slowly taking over the eyewear industry. Startups like Roger Bacon Eyewear, SpeX and scope for design are all offering users the opportunity to wear customizable and perfectly fitting 3D printed frames. In many cases even storeowners are profiting from this approach, as several companies are offering digital fitting booths relying on 3D facial scanning technology. In those cases, the frames are only 3D printed after selection, keeping overhead costs as low as possible.

But if you’re going to 3D print the frames, you might as well do so as environmentally friendly as possible. That is, in a nutshell, the reasoning behind Yuma – a Belgian startup that will be producing 3D printed, circular sunglasses made from old dashboards, recycled bamboo and even old refrigerators at the beginning of 2017. As the materials themselves are reusable, you can get a discount if you want to switch to a new model.

The name Yuma refers to Yuma, Arizona – often called the sunniest place on Earth. “Not a bad name for a sunglasses manufacturer, we hoped,” says founder Sebastiaan de Neubourg. This Belgian startup was set up in an attempt to start a conversation about the ‘circular economy’, which is focused on local manufacturing and recycling. It’s a way for everyone to make a very small contribution to reducing the vast amounts of plastic that is filling the world’s oceans.

3D printing is expected to play a huge part in that, as it’s essentially the easiest way to set up local production and recycling initiatives. Virtually every material can be transformed into sunglasses through 3D printing, De Neubourg argues. “Our supplier grinds down dashboards and transforms them into filament, though we are also using recycled PET bottles, refrigerators, bamboo and wood. We are also exploring biomaterial options, such as algae,” he reveals.

Of course PLA is already biodegradable, but usually doesn’t look too stylish. By mixing that with bamboo or other wood fibers, however, a fantastic wood-like effect is created. Even a 40-60 bamboo-PLA mixture will create such a natural look, with the glasses being sanded and laser engraved for a fantastic, fashionable result.

Even more importantly, the sunglasses will continue to be recyclable. “If clients are looking for a new pair a few seasons after buying their first Yuma glasses, they can just swap it in for a huge discount – or cash in hand. The material circle of life stays closed that way, with the materials never being wasted,” De Neubourg says. “In fact, we’d prefer a rental business model, though that might not appeal to many people.”

Prototype from recycled soda bottles

The concept sounds fantastic on paper, though production itself won’t start until early 2017. Right now, the startup is therefore working hard to get the word out there and build a community. “We don’t want to be just a manufacturer; we prefer to be a community, in which clients are active participants,” the Belgian developer says. “To get people interested, we are therefore working with celebrities and are planning a fantastic marketing campaign with the Dutch The Better Future Factory. Together, we will be trawling festivals and 3D print promotional glasses from waste and empty cups. The quality won’t be fantastic, but it will definitely send a message.”

What’s more, they are planning to get the most out of 3D printing. That means localized production through fab-labs and 3D Hubs, but also giving up-and-coming designers the opportunity to submit designs and be awarded sales commissions. “Those parts that cannot be 3D printed, such as the hinges, will be sent via the mail,” the developer adds. In the future, people could even be encouraged to design and 3D print their own sunglasses using open source designs. While the results might not be as good, it can certainly give you an idea of how your selected design will look and feel like before ordering a proper Yuma pair.

So what’s next for Yuma? Right now, the startup is planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to gather enough funds to cover initial production. At the same time, this will be seen as a concept validation moment: “do people even want Yuma sunglasses?” The sunglasses are expected to cost anywhere from 100 to 150 euros ($111 to $160 USD), also including top quality lenses. Once production gets underway, prices are expected to drop as well. Fortunately, certification is only necessary for the lenses, and that is a well-established concept already.

Despite these current challenges, De Neubourg is already dreaming about the next phase. “Sunglasses are an appealing carrier for a positive message, and in the future that same message can take on other shapes. Just like headphones are appealing carriers for modularity and services,” he said. While not yet speculating about other accessories that could become part of the circular economy, the developer did add that their work underlined the fact that recycling and circular production principles are still in their infancy in Belgium. “We could become a world leader in this field, if only the country made a collective, resolute decision to adopt circular principles. Let’s make the future more appealing!”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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