Additive Fabrication For Functional Custom Optics
‘Additive Fabrication’ is an appropriate name to describe the various technologies that build objects in 3D by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether this material includes metals, concrete, or… optical plastics!
From ‘Layer-by-Layer’ to ‘Droplets-on-Demand’
A common value all technologies basically share is the use of a computer, 3D modelling software, hardware equipment and layering material (filament or liquid resin) to get to the final result.
Once a CAD sketch is produced, the equipment reads in data from the CAD file and starts to jet, lay down or add successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material layer-by-layer to fabricate the 3D object. Then it gets cured by either using ‘light’ or ‘thermal’ capabilities to turn it in its final state.
Additive Fabrication Technologies
Additive Fabrication encompasses various technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) and layered manufacturing.
The applications of Additive Fabrication have virtually no limit. Where the initial use of the process in the form of Rapid Prototyping mainly focused on preproduction of visualization models, today it’s being used to fabricate end-use products in aviation, automotive, and medical industries. Whereas in our case, multi-market applications are found for custom optics, related to the aforementioned industries and beyond.
If you are interested how additive fabrication relates to optical manufacturing, please refer to the explanation of our ‘Additive Optics Fabrication‘ process for more details.
Additive Fabrication meets Sophisticated Demand
While the manufacturing approaches are basically very simple, there are many applications of Additive Fabrication technology with degrees of sophistication to meet diverse needs including:
- Inspirational/Functional Demonstration: Create a Visualization Tool in Design environments to get a certain product or concept approved (Design/Concept validation);
- Customization: Create highly customized products (mass-customization);
- Fabrication of manufacturing tooling: producing the tool itself directly from the CAD, rather than the final product; this may still make sense when larger volumes of identical parts are needed;
- Tooling Validation: Validation of manufacturing tooling investments (forecasting the expected tool outcomes before the physical (risky) investment is made;
- Low-volume Production: Produce small lots of production parts (pre-series manufacture);
Additive Fabrication – Adoption and Future Outlook
Some may envision Additive Fabrication as ‘complementary’ to foundational subtractive manufacturing (removing material rather than adding it) and to a lesser degree as forming technologies (like forging).
No matter what you think, we strongly believe that Additive Fabrication technologies may offer professionals the accessibility to create, customize and/or repair products, and in the process, redefine current production technology by overcoming the actual hurdles and impossibilities!