Nov 9, 2015 | By Benedict

Manufactured optics play an important part in many aspects of our daily lives. From our digital cameras, to our Blu-Ray players, to the laser surgery which could save our lives, the science of optics has many practical applications. To enable these applications, there are a great deal of companies out there who produce functional optical products, for the aforementioned purposes and many more besides. But one firm claims to be the first and only to be creating high-level, functional optics using 3D printing technology. That company, Dutch firm LUXeXceL, has just announced a collaboration with OPTIS, a software vendor with over 2500 clients in over 50 countries, whose products provide scientific simulation of light, human vision and physically correct visualisation. The announcement follows a similar partnership announced in September between Luxecel and Berlin based 3D printing service Trinckle. This latest partnership demonstrates that both LUXeXceL and OPTIS are taking their expansion seriously, and that 3D printed optics could well be on the rise. “I’m excited about this new collaboration”, concurred OPTIS CEO and founder Jacques Delacour. “Our users definitely need ways to ease their design phases. This partnership is a step forward towards the creation of always better and safer automotive designs, which includes more and more lit material.”

The union of LUXeXceL and OPTIS is a tale of hardware meets software: Users can virtually design a 3D model of a lens using the OPTIS CAD software, before 3D printing that very design using Luxexcel’s patented Printoptical Technology. There are several advantages to the OPTIS software package. Users can both design the lens in its 3D form, and create a “digital lighting plan”, allowing the product to be tested virtually within the software. Users can visualise on-screen how the designed lens will act in given lighting situations, so it is not necessary to 3D print a variety of prototypes in the hope that one will give the desired outcome.

The two companies have already melded their two products, so users can seamlessly design and 3D print a range of functional optical components. The incorporation of LUXeXceL’s material into the OPTIS software means that users can design their product so it is immediately printable using LUXeXceL’s dedicated service. “With the integration of the Luxexcel material in the OPTIS Library you can design your file with our material properties included,” explained Peter Paul Cornelissen, Head of Marketing and Online Business Development at LUXeXceL. “This will significantly speed up your design and prototyping process. Our online service has three easy steps: design, upload and receive your product. After the customer designs his lens or light guide, he uploads and orders it online on the customer portal. We check the design, print it and ship it to the customer within 5 working days.”

A five-day turnover certainly sounds impressive, but how do 3D printed optical components compare with traditionally manufactured alternatives? Besides the speed advantage, there is one important reason why companies and individuals might opt for 3D printed optical components over those made by injection moulding. For products in the prototyping stage, producing a mould for a product is time-consuming and costly. Furthermore, if the design changes even slightly, it is unlikely that the mould itself can be altered, meaning yet more moulds need to be made. 3D printing completely eliminates the need for moulds: changing a design simply means editing a digital file, and that amended product is immediately ready to be printed. No wasted moulds; no wasted time.

If 3D printed optics offer such an advantage over other kinds, you might be wondering why you haven’t seen many optical designs being discussed on various maker boards, or 3D printed optics being offered in many places. That’s because optics require very specific attributes, such as an extremely smooth surface and often total transparency. Whilst some 3D printers can use transparent filaments, few can provide a completely smooth surface or the requisitely small degree of scattering required for high-calibre optics.

If the collaboration proves successful, the optics industry could fully adopt 3D printing technology and change its course forever. “With this digital process we will change a 3000 years old analogue industry and make it future proof,” predicts Cornelissen. We can only wait and see.



Posted in 3D Printing Service



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