3D printing-the great equalizer in eyewear manufacturing

May 23, 2013

By Justin Bazan, OD

By Justin Bazan, OD

Dr. Bazan is a 2004 SUNY grad and the owner of Vision Source Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn. Reach him on his Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was never impressed with the 3D printed cheap, plastic, gimmicky doohickies and other useless-albeit geekishly intriguing-gadgets that I had seen. A recent post in the Optometry and Technology Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/optometry.technology, changed that. I watched a YouTube video of OD Jeff Goodhew’s son Cam, an 11th grader, 3D printing his own frames. I was impressed. My initial reaction was, “Wow, that’s really cool but, yikes -those are cheap, plastic, gimmicky, big, red frames that I would never wear or want to sell. However, there was a deeper emotion looming. It was one of potential. It was the excitement of possibilities. It was the recognition of an inflection point in the design and manufacturing process. This is disruptive technology, and it will have an impact.

Watch Cam Goodhew 3D printing his own eyeglass frame at www.bit.ly/3dframes.

Did you feel it? Or perhaps that video made you nervous. You certainly had an emotional response because eyewear is still very much at the core of optometry, and 3D printing certainly represents a change in how eyewear is made. Change often can be uncomfortable or exciting, because change leads to progress. When the first PCs came to market, many of us were myopic in our view of what they could help us accomplish Much like our initial reaction to PCs, many of us might downplay the potential of 3D printing. I used my first few computers to play games and for word processing. A few decades later, my Internet-connected computer is a critical artery in my life. I know 3D printing is not going to be as revolutionary or as important as the PC, but I do foresee it having its place in our world.

So, what exactly is going on in the video? What you are watching is a type of 3D printing known as additive manufacturing. In additive manufacturing, material is layered, and the layers are fused on top of each other, until a complete 3D product has been made. Contrast this with subtractive manufacturing, the more familiar way of cutting out a design from a block of material. Surprisingly, 3D printing is not a new concept. In fact, it has been around for 3 decades, but has never really been in the public eye. Why? It has been inefficient, inaccessible, slow, and often expensive. Today, the reality is that those barriers have broken down, and the public will have access to 3D printing. In fact, it eventually could be as ubiquitous as your desktop printer. Consumers can even now buy a very basic 3D printer for around $500.

In the video we see Cam using a free data set for frames he found at Thingiverse, www.thingiverse.com. Using a free, simple computer program called MarkerWare, he put some finishing design touches on the digital plans. He then uploaded these plans into his 3D printer. Cam uses the $2,000 MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer, seen here: http://store.makerbot.com/replicator2.html. The printer then deposits the melted plastic material, layer upon layer, in an additive process. The kicker is that the frames consumed only about $4 worth of materials!

So, you may think geeks are the only people using or even interested in 3D printing. Well, a little research has already given us an industry example to learn from. Here is what I found. PQ Eyewear, http://pq-eyewear.com, works with a 3D printing company to produce its line of frames. They have unique styles that often appear to be impossible with traditional manufacturing process, yet are easily done with 3D printing. For a detailed look at this operation, read, “Is 3D printing about to hit the mainstream?” at www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/apr/30/3d-printing-mainstream-technology.

So there is already an impact. For the first time in history, the possibility of an entrepreneur or sole proprietor being able to design and manufacture a frame line on a small scale is a reality. A small-scale frame line was never before feasible in view of competition from current frame manufacturers, which often require orders that have minimums in the hundreds of frames. With 3D printing, we can truly design, develop, and implement our own frame line.

Another area of impact and potential involves creating individual frames. Customizable. Personalized. Specialized. Unique. Frames that are truly yours because you can be involved with them from the concept to design through manufacturing. The idea of bespoke eyewear is a reality. One day soon, your clients could come in and design their own frames. I should say hopefully come in, because I’m sure as I write this, there are companies developing platform-to-process online orders, printing at a local shop, or even implementing the technology in a vending machine.ODT

TAKE-HOME MESSAGE

The use of 3D printing to make eyewear promises to turn the economies of scale upside down in favor of one-off, individualized frames and away from traditional manufacturing giants.

3D demonstration

Want to see how Camden Goodhew used his 3D printer to print his own eyeglass frame? Watch the video at: www.bit.ly/3dframes.