3D Printed Eyewear
The idea of introducing elements of 3D printing in eyewear manufacturing—beyond its use in prototyping and lost wax casting or injection molding—began to take form after 2011. As low-cost 3D printing technologies entered the market and “B2C” online 3D printing services such as Shapeways, Sculpteo and iMaterialise began to target individual designers and small studios, eyewear became increasingly seen as one of the first viable consumer applications for 3D printing processes.
Today, a little over five years later, the segment has grown into a relevant and accelerating market segment, with more and more operators entering the field every year. However, it still remains a niche segment with significant medium- and long-term potential.
Unlike more consolidated end-use applications of 3D printing in dentistry and healthcare, eyewear products generally carry a significantly lower end-price and offer fewer direct benefits in terms of customization. The higher costs of customized, additive production thus find fewer justifications in the eye of the eyewear consumer.
In the eyewear segment, 3D printing is used to make not only end-use parts but for complete end-use products that are sold through consumer targeted stores and studios. In this sense, 3D printing in the eyewear business is more similar to the dental segment, where 3D printing of end-user parts is often carried out by dental practices serving the end-user directly, as well as orthodontic labs. Thus, the primary end-user for eyewear is not an aerospace or automotive company but rather a single consumer. The price that a consumer is able and willing to spend on a customization of an eyewear product is lower than the price that an aerospace company can pay for 3D printed parts or the price that people are willing to spend on dentistry and implants. In addition, the market for luxury eyewear is not nearly as large as the market for luxury automobiles.
Nevertheless, the trend for mass customization is strong and growing. Among consumer products, eyewear could be the category that most stands to benefit from customization. The lower costs of accessibility to AM technologies and materials, coupled with much wider availability of 3D capturing and 3D scanning devices and software (some 3D capture capabilities are now integrated into most high-end mobile devices), all contribute to making custom, 3D-printed eyewear into what could be the first truly mass customized product.
Other clear limitations and benefits are dependent on materials and design possibilities. The increased geometric capabilities of 3D printing are not always beneficial in eyewear design. At the same time, the generally more porous and rougher surface, that results from most powder-based 3D printing processes, the most common in eyewear production, is not always appreciated by the end user.
In this new AM Focus, we will present an analysis of 3D printing opportunities in the eyewear industry, leveraging exclusive data from SmarTech Publishing’s recent report on 3D printed eyewear and unique contributions from some of the eyewear AM segment’s most relevant pioneers and leaders.