3D Printed EyewearConsumer Products

The use of AM continues to expand at Luxottica

The company has embraced metal binder jetting alongside polymer 3D printing technologies

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Luxottica, the giant eyewear group that owns brands such as Oakley and Ray Ban among several others,  introduced 3D printing/additive manufacturing within its production processes as early as 1998, starting with plastic systems for prototyping and tooling. In 2015 the company introduced metal 3D printing, via Digital Metal (now Markforged) binder jetting, and has progressively implemented it for different uses and materials.

One key example is the collaboration between Oakley and HP, a technology company specializing in hardware, software, printing and prototyping solutions, that was recently strengthened. The goal is to meet the needs of the best athletes in the world with an increasing number of high-quality products.

Oakley uses HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printer, to create plastic prototypes with functional parts, by leveraging the technology for its portfolio of sports accessories, equipment and lifestyle products. Always at the forefront, the brand had begun integrating 3D printing into its design process as early as 1992, starting with the silhouette of the sunglasses. Since 2015, metal has also been used for prototypes of this type.

Digital Metal software speed
Digital Metal’s DM P2500 3D printer

The real heart of prototyping at Luxottica is the Agordo factory where, often in a race against time, models are created to be shown in fashion shows, collections and exhibitions in boutiques. The walls of the prototyping department and those of research and development preserve the know-how of this innovative technology which provides considerable freedom of form, now fundamental in the sector.

Taking a look at metals, until 2015, the transformation of some components from 3D files to physical models was outsourced, but since then, thanks to a partnership with the Swedish company Digital Metal, the process is carried out internally and the prototype is printed directly in metal, thus obtaining components similar to those of the final models, those that are sold and worn.

In addition to reducing production times, 3D printing gives much more freedom for both the creation and production processes. Becasue it does not require molds, this type of printing allows Luxottica designers to create complex shapes of any kind: working on metal enables them to deliver a prototype that is very close to the final model in terms of strength and result. Furthermore, freedom from specific equipment is an advantage for the realization of small runs.

As far as plastic 3D printing is concerned, Agordo is the plant where the widest variety of technologies is present, including stereolithography, selective laser sintering and material jetting. However, other printers are also present in the Tristar, Oakley and Tecnol factories.

For metal 3D printing, Luxottica has instead invested in a single technology located only in the Agordo plant. The Digital Metal machine implements the most precise metal binder jetting systems available on the market. Printing the entire volume can take up to 20 hours. The printed volume is then placed in a furnace in which the polymer solidifies, thus making it possible to separate the pieces from the powder. The excess powder from machining is reused for subsequent models.

The components are then placed in a furnace with a temperature of over 1,300 degrees and the final result is the finished product which, in the meantime, has shrunk by about 20% of the initial volume due to the total evaporation of the polymer. To make the best use of it, Agordo’s staff was trained directly on-site by the Swedish staff of the machine manufacturer and a close partnership was set in place in terms of materials and technology optimization.

While with plastic 3D printing still has some limits in terms of surface finish, with metal the components come out – after an optimization process – with a shiny and smooth surface: it is difficult to notice the difference between this product and that generated by other mass manufacturing technologies.

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VoxelMatters is the online trade media portal published by 3dpbm, a leading marketing and market research firm specializing in the AM industry. 3dpbm also publishes the 3D Printing Business Directory, the AM Focus eBook series and the 3dpbm Research AM Market Reports. 3D Printing Media Network was founded with the goal to provide the latest industry news, insights and opinions to a global audience of professionals and decision makers.

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