Thanks to the pioneers of the fourth industrial revolution, making unique, personalised products with 3D printing – including glasses – has become a reality. The world market for this technology has been increasing by an average of 20 to 25% each year for the last 10 years, going from $1.3 billion in 2010 to $12.8 billion in 2020; projections estimate $100 billion in 2029. In 1986, the American engineer Charles Hull invented a stereolithographic process in a digital format, and this initial rapid prototyping system portended the appearance of 3D printing. Far from a simple gadget or a passing fad, additive manufacturing is a technological revolution that is still on the rise. It is currently used in an array of sectors, including automotive, aeronautics, medicine, consumer goods, and more. It offers a number of advantages compared to the traditional manufacturing methods, particularly in terms of flexibility, cost reduction, and time efficiency. In the last few years, 3D printing has evolved a great deal through new innovations and usages. There have been surprising developments, such as bio-printing, developed in 2011 to print a kidney; the first 3D printer sent into space; or the first entirely 3D-printed store.
Since the development of a stereolithographic (SLA) process using a liquid resin that solidifies under the effects of UV rays, other new additive manufacturing techniques have emerged such as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) based on the laser-fusion of a plastic powder. Another is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), which functions through the extrusion of a plastic filament… Technologies are continually progressing, as are the 3D printing materials: plastic, aluminium, steel, titanium, precious metals, polymers, ceramic, glass, food products, hybrid materials based on carbon fibre, fibreglass, hemp, wood, stoneware, and so on. In fact, the creative possibilities for 3D printing appear endless. Especially because companies on the 3D printing materials and services market (3D Systems, Inc., Arkema Group, CRP Technology Srl, EnvisionTEC Inc., EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems, General Electric Company, Hoganas AB, LPW Technology Ltd, Royal DSM NV, Materialise, Sandvik AB, Solvay, Stratasys Ltd. Ultimaker BV, and others) are continually investing to create new materials and broaden the fields of application.
3D glasses, seeing into the future
The optical and eyewear industry is exploring the advantages of 3D printing, not only for personalisation, mass digital production, and advanced prototyping, but also to produce frames in whole or in parts, to reduce development and production time, and to create glasses in complex forms. The SmarTech Publishing research firm, specialising in additive production, presented the very first in-depth analysis in the glasses segment. Its report reveals that additive manufacturing in the glasses industry will be worth $3.4 billion by 2028, thanks to the rapid expansion of finished pieces, compared to $182 million in 2018. The American firm’s predictions are consistent with the number of leaders launching into the production of 3D-printed frames, lenses and optical components such as Carbon, DWS, EOS, Formlabs, HP, Luxexcel, Sculpteo (BASF), and Sisma. This industrial roll-out is attracting a number of creative brands: Götti, Hoët, Impressio, Monoqool, Mykita, Mylon, Neubau, Rolf Spectacles, Vava Eyewear, VM L’atelier, and many others.
A new economic model
3D impression offers true opportunities for the eyewear market, since glasses wearers are seeking unique products that suit their styles. The SmarTech Publishing company forecasts that, to address those needs, an increasing number of stores will be equipped with 3D digitalisation applications which will make it possible to print customised glasses at the store within just a few hours. Meanwhile, proximity industrialisation is reinforcing the credibility of additive manufacturing, making it possible to produce volumes more efficiently than through traditional production methods. In the near future, 3D printing will make a new economic model possible, centred on better production management with less wasted material, fewer intermediaries, less stocking expenditure and fewer unsold articles: a controlled-volume approach to production through adaptable, flexible manufacturing plants.
The SILMO d’OR awards recognise 3D printing
The members of the SILMO d’OR jury are attentive to the most cutting-edge developments, and they are also keeping an eye on the future of 3D printing through their awards to innovative companies:
In 2018, IMPRESSIO won the prize in the “Sunglasses Eyewear Designer” category with the “Impressio 609 Vortex” frames, featuring a 3D-printed polyamide front. While on its side, L'AMY won the prize in the “Frame Technological Innovation” category with the “McLaren Ultimate Vision” which is based in particular on titanium 3D printing.
In 2021, the jury awarded two prizes for 3D innovations. The “Jury’s Special Award” went to VAVA Eyewear for its “Cl0015” model, a round pair of frames made by 3D printing in high-quality, biosourced polyamide powder made with castor oil. And ROLF Spectacles won a “SILMO d’OR innovation” award with its 3D-printed “Amur 02 | plant-based eye” frames.