Innovation is the heartbeat of society. Big ideas for existing problems combined with the right technology results in innovative products with the power to revolutionize industries. The first industrial revolution resulted in tools, the second industrial revolution resulted in serial production and the third industrial revolution, 3D printing, will result in mass customization.
Across all industries, 3D printing has come to the forefront as a disruptor in creating completely new products and for more efficient manufacturing processes. It is now poised to offer a solution for frames and for custom lenses. The eyewear requires both customization and mass production, 3D printing fits seamlessly to fulfill those requirements.
By Guido Groet
Trends in society offer opportunities for the eyewear industry
If you zoom in on four main trends today that have a major impact on the eyewear industry:
- The first trend is instant gratification, end-users want products immediate and without any compromises. To address this you see emerging platforms across the eyewear industry like online ordering platforms for sunglasses, websites to try out your glasses in a virtual environment or opportunities to measure your own prescription with a mobile device.
- The second trend is customization of products, end-users prefer custom products over mass products. They want unique products tailored to their needs. This results in evolving distribution models to satisfy the end-user. For the eyewear industry, you see this emerging in custom 3D printed frames fully tailored to fit your face or 3D printed lenses customized for your eyes.
- With technology evolving every single day, the third trend is that more products become smart. Why only correct vision through eyewear when the functionality of a phone or other devices could be added? Big tech players develop first generation smart glasses to enhance your regular glasses with functionality. Glasses have been passive devices for decades but with integration of technology your glasses will become active. The end-user will have one single product with multiple functionalities and might not need a phone at all.
- The final trend is sustainability, end-users take into account the burden manufacturing processes and products have on the environment. The world will be focused on reduction of waste, energy and reducing the carbon footprint of product manufacturing. Also elimination of toxic components will be the norm. With 3D printing, you can provide a more sustainable alternative compared to traditional manufacturing as you add material.
The impact of 3D printing for the eyewear industry
3D printing has the most impact where there is a need for volume, and individual customization, which is exactly what the eyewear industry requires. The eyewear industry has found a way to address this need within the limitations of today’s legacy technology. With offering 3D printed lenses you will not require huge inventories, a complex supply chain or have a limited product design.
3D printing offers ophthalmic labs and eyewear companies an opportunity to maximize the industry’s potential and change aspects of the eyewear industry. This plays in satisfying the trend of instant gratification.
Focus on smart glasses
Let’s focus on the one trend where we see a strong contribution from 3D lens print technology: smart glasses. After the introduction of the first smart glasses several years ago, the adoption was not quite what technology companies anticipated. However, in today’s world people get more and more interested in adding multiple functionalities to their products.
The adoption of the smart phone is an example of adopting smart devices. But why stick to adding more devices in your day to day life while you can combine it into one single product? This paves the way for introducing real smart glasses.
Sixty percent of the population is not able to see without a prescription. Each lens must be customized for the wearer. The lenses cannot be simply picked from a shelf. Roughly 4.6 billion people require vision correction. In the developed world, greater than 84% have selected spectacle lenses as their primary vision solution. People need a good vision solution in smart glasses. Any smart glass solution will require addressing the prescription need, and this is where 3D printing can play a unique role.An AR/VR design which truly integrates prescription lenses would meet the visual needs for the majority of the population. A manufacturer which takes this approach would gain a cosmetic and functional advantage over competitors who are offering bulky, heavy, unattractive products which attempt to fit over regular prescription eyewear. Providing the best wearer experience using an amazing new 3D print technology might be what is needed.
What eyewear experts considered impossible is now possible; transparent and high-quality 3D printed prescription lenses. We are the first in this space and our 3D printing technology is installed commercially, printing prescription ophthalmic lenses daily, for shipment to end users. We understand the complexities of ophthalmic lenses and are poised to work in partnership with the AR/VR industry.
Most of the AR/VR glasses available today look bulky and uncomfortable and people even feel silly wearing them. By truly integrating prescription lenses into smart glasses design, manufacturers have an opportunity to disrupt the industry of mostly bulky, heavy and unattractive products. Some companies have made steps to provide prescription inserts which can work but could be significantly improved and be truly part of the design.
When manufacturers treat prescription lenses as a “must have” element instead of an afterthought, this will open many opportunities for AR/VR sales and positively influence buyer adoption.
Prescription lenses for technology companies
Technology companies often have a limited understanding of the complexity of delivering prescription lenses to end users. Prescription lenses are medical devices, with regulatory requirements. Many technology companies have a business model which stocks products until a consumer places an order and they ship the product to the consumer. Once vision correction is required, this model will not work.
To stock just the most common lens prescriptions would result in more than 3 million SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units). Luxexcel technology offers a turnkey solution without massive capital investment. In the long term point-of-purchase printing is possible so when you buy your smart glasses you can get your prescription added right in the store.Offering an immediate solution to the customer demand.At the moment 3D printing of lenses is deployed in the eyewear market, commercially shipping lenses daily to consumers through customer labs. In parallel, we are providing prescription lens inserts to several companies in the AR/VR space. We have not yet rolled out the technology to fully integrate 3D printed lenses where we print on top of the smart technology.
Is the eyewear industry ready for a sustainable future?
Soon our world will be populated by more than 10B people. We collectively generate an impressive amount of waste. It is clear that also the eyewear industry will need to make its own contribution and work towards reducing the impact on the environment.
Today this is clearly not happening enough with legacy technology. 3D printing is a technology that can help reduce the carbon footprint and the amount of waste generated, for our industry.
Is the eyewear industry ready for a smart future?
Several of the four main trends are addressed by eyewear companies. New innovations emerge every single day like custom 3D printed frames, measurement devices for your own home and new AR/VR glasses.
However, 3D printing opens up real possibilities for ophthalmic labs and technology companies to make custom products with added value. Examples are lenses with a screen or reflective device inside.
We have made prototypes in which we print on top of the electronic device creating an integrated visual solution. What it does for the end-product is to combine smart and functional eyewear with an acceptable and fashionable appearance. The eyewear industry is ready for the next innovation, but are you?
Guido Groet is Chief Commercial Officer at Luxexcel. He has an extensive background in technology and has been instrumental in bringing new technologies to market. Having worked for many years in both Europe and the USA for technology giant ASML world leader in semiconductor equipment. He has held VP positions in Business development, M&A, and Strategy development and has been in charge of the business relationship with key optics partner Zeiss in Germany. He has also been COO and subsequently, CEO of a venture capital financed company in disruptive high tech manufacturing technologies. At Luxexcel Guido is in charge of all commercial aspects of the business.