3D Printed Optics: Optical Quality Parts straight from the 3D Printer

Back in 2009, printed optics were invented by Luxexcel, a Dutch start-up formed by entrepreneurs with a deep and long-lasting background in the lighting industry. Unhappy with the limited flexibility, extraordinary upfront cost for design- and manufacturing tooling, as well as minimum order quantities related to the current manufacturing approaches for custom LED optics, a novel process was invented called ‘Printoptical Technology’ or, as we like to call it today after a decade of innovation ‘Additive Optics Fabrication‘.

3D Printed Optics – Additively Grown Optical Components

Printed Optics, what is it, and how does it work?
In its very essence, the optical parts are generated from a CAD file and then processed by advanced 3D printing software. Accordingly, the optical structures, objects or textures get printed on a substrate, basically an optical PMMA, Polycarbonate or a custom specialty.

During this process, tiny droplets of a UV-curable acrylic are jetted onto the surface, and then flow and merge under surface tension, before they get cured by UV-light. The resulting surfaces are smooth straight from the process and there is zero need for post-processing, such as polishing or grinding them.

Image of 3D printed optics flys eye lens array 3D printed optics – smooth surfaces straight from the printer

Depending on its use, the printed object get separated from the build tray after printing, or remain seamlessly merged with the sheet material for enhanced stiffness, what may generate additional benefits for e.g. large format optics.

In addition, the difference in refractive indices may be very welcome for certain optics applications, generally enabling flatter optics solutions. Ultimately, GRIN optics will be generated by the process from which we believe it is the only valid option to get there.

Image of array with 3D printed micro lenses by Luximprint for archive illustration Gradient of small micro lenses 3D printed onto optical sheet surface.

Benefits of 3D printed optics

The core benefits of optical 3D printing include, among others:

* Cost-Efficiency;
the ‘tool’ is digital, in fact, a CAD file, as such no physical manufacturing tooling is involved, what takes away the need for excessive upfront investments. With no tooling involved, there is also no need for amortization of manufacturing tooling, as such, the minimum order quantity is now as low as one, as no amortization has to be done of the tooling. This results in zero minimum order quantities (MOQ), an absolute nightmare for today’s stock-keeping OEMs;

* Fast Processing;
The speedy printing process has, on the contrary to other conventional 3D printers, evolved from inkjet printing, known for its advanced droplet placement and ultra-fast printing speed;

* Design Flexibility;
Product Variations (slightly different product types), Product Iterations (reworked initial designs) or Duplicates (exact copies) can be generated easily, when needed even “in-process”;

With Additive Optics Fabrication, engineers and designers of novel lighting systems are now able to develop, test, iterate and validate their work in days rather than weeks or months, thanks to the enhanced flexibility, speed and flexibility offered by the process.

Image for 3D printed optics archive page with large flys eye lens array portraited. Large flys eye lens array with smooth optical surface finish straight from the printer.

3D printed optics and Optographix are the flagship products of Luximprint. The optical 3Dprinting process is ever-evolving, and from time to time new capabilities are launched to enrich the service for its users.

Feel welcome to join the ‘printed optics movement’ and start your discovery today!

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