Among the first to implement 3D printing to develop frames, ClearVision Optical hired a product engineer devoted to the technology.

The optical sector is just beginning to explore 3D printing technology. One of its early adopters is ClearVision Optical, whose product engineer, Pia Taveras, is managing the 3D printing project for the company.

What’s the Right 3D Material?

When asked why the optical industry has been slow to move into 3D printing, Taveras said, “I feel this is primarily because we haven’t seen a material that can replace cellulose acetate. A few companies are using a polylactic acid (PLA) plastic (a biodegradable thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources), and one is using nylon in a powdered form but only for a few frames in their line. There are 3D metal printers, but they are far too expensive for frame production. Conventional frame manufacturing still costs less and takes less time than 3D manufacturing at this point.”

Taveras also indicated that unlike the biomedical and aerospace fields, the optical industry doesn’t necessarily have the qualified personnel to run 3D printing facilities. “Our industry is in the early adopter phase. More players will help us bridge the gap
that will lead to greater efficiency
and profitability,” she said.

Three Years of 3D

ClearVision executives David and Peter Friedfeld decided to take a proactive position on 3D printing because they believed it was important to be ahead of the curve. With that vision, the company started experimenting with 3D printing nearly three years ago, hiring Taveras for her engineering expertise.

“We designed our Aspire collection on 3D printers, and it helped us assess shape, style, fit and functionality in-house. This allowed us to approve frames before we received samples from the manufacturer,” Taveras explained. The company also used 3D printing to design the Aspire cases, which allowed for assessing their design, ergonomics, functionality and appeal before ordering them.

Instant Innovation

In addition to assisting with design, 3D technology also saves time and money. “3D printing has saved us up to four months in the frame development process,” Taveras pointed out. “We’ve also been as innovative as we wanted while assessing all the elements of our frame ideas in-house before ordering them. Another helpful aspect is that we don’t have to worry about the manufacturer misunderstanding what we want. They simply use the files we send to produce the frames.”

How can 3D printing benefit optical frame, lens and equipment manufacturers? “In its current form, 3D printing is helping with innovation,” Taveras said. “As ClearVision envisions the future of eyewear, 3D printing is helping us test what we imagine. We can also respond to new designs or color trends more quickly because we can print a new collection within a week or so.”

In-House Customization

Taveras also noted that companies can customize eyewear for buyers. One company does it using nylon material. “With 3D printing, it’s possible to create a frame based on the exact features of a person. By scanning their face, you can obtain the dimensions you want the frame to accommodate. You can also offer them the exact design, construction, color, size and more that they want to customize,” she said.

While Taveras believes there will be stock frames for many years to come, early 3D printing will cater to personalized eyewear for those buyers who want a unique experience. “You’ll be able to take a stock model and order some customization, alterations such as a modified bridge shape or deepening of the eyewire. You’ll also be able to personalize a stock frame in some ways such as by adding your name to the temples,” she said.

Some have suggested that 3D printing will eventually be performed in the retail optical office, but according to Taveras, that’s going to take an investment of time, people and money to make it happen. “The retailer will need a trained technician who can manage the software and hardware necessary to scan a person’s face, manipulate the 3D design and properly utilize the 3D equipment,” she said. “These are not simple tasks and require special employees to accomplish them. Retailers might also send a person’s scanned image to a manufacturer to print and ship the frame to the retailer. The retailer might also print the frame at a local 3D printing hub in their community.”

3D Lens and Spare Parts Printing?

Taveras indicated that printing lenses using 3D technology will be more complicated than frames because of all the coatings and other options they utilize. On the equipment side, manufacturers will be able to make parts as needed instead of stocking them. A doctor will likely be able to print an instrument at a local print shop.

“Another important aspect of 3D printing is the end of obsolescence,” Taveras offered. “Parts will no longer go out of date as long as either the buyer or the company has the file from which they can 3D print on demand. This is a major advantage for all aspects of our industry. Frames will no longer go out of date; neither will lenses or equipment parts.”

Ed De Gennaro, MEd, ABOM, is director, professional content for First Vision Media Group.


WHERE TO FIND IT: ClearVision Optical Co. 800.645.3733


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