Printed Optics Open Up a New Manufacturing Space for Custom Optics

Digital Additive manufacturing technologies are set to revolutionize the way we design and fabricate parts and, in optical industries, availability optics for a variety of applications. As we focus at Luximprint mainly on providing fast, flexible and cost-effective solutions for illumination applications, let’s take a deeper dive here into optics that are ‘light source’ related. Here’s how we think Luximprint’s digital manufacturing process will impact the future of optics and how printed optics usher a new era of optics manufacturing.

Printed Optics for the Lighting Industry

Lighting industry experts have a clear vision of the role of Additive Optics Fabrication in the lighting market: optics are a critical component in the total fixture assembly, the build-block that defines ‘the light to go where it’s needed’. Imagine just a tiny component in the full bill-of-materials’ with such a major impact!

The challenges, however, that custom optics face in the lighting industry are multiple. To overcome those, the time is getting ripe for new design- and manufacturing approaches. And this is where Additive Optics Fabrication comes in.

Image of Faceted Lens Technology by Physionary and Luximprint New design and manufacturing approaches will lead the path to new applications in lighting design and application.

From ‘Frustration’ to ‘Innovation’

At the one side, we could relate the ‘frustrations’ of today’s industry from the engineering end to a bunch of design and manufacturing imperfections: (expensive) software limitations, mismatching functionalities, constantly changing needs due to rapidly evolving light sources, costly tooling investments, long lead times, and unusable stocks related to heavy minimum order quantities. All factors that significantly delay or frustrate the development cycle of novel lighting systems.

From a prescription/application perspective, on the other hand, lighting designers and lighting specifiers – they guys having the real understanding of lighting application – miss the tooling to control light output and tailor it to every specific need in a given project, thus saving energy and create far less light pollution. It’s time for a different approach!

Printed Optics Change Manufacturing Paradigms

Optical industries, like many other sectors before additive manufacturing, have suffered from long lead times and a lack of cost-effective manufacturing methods for prototyping and low volumes (pre-series). Users are aware of that and accept that getting custom optics available cost significantly more. Additive Fabrication technologies are changing those paradigms, and 3D printed optics significantly contribute to making customization available for optics applications.

The Future of Optics is ‘Print’

Whereas in other (conventional) screen- and paper printing industries processes may suffer from digitization, seeing the printed volumes in drop, in 3D printing we believe that Additive Optics Fabrication will become the leading fabrication method for prototyping and one of the leading methods for low-volume optics, thanks to the ability to create custom parts on demand in exact quantities as needed.

Zooming-In: The Lens Manufacturing Process

The lighting industry uses lenses or reflectors to manage light output. A lens is needed to distribute the light from a given source to the required target. Mass-fabrication processes for lenses require expensive moulds and tools and, due to the amortization of the tooling investments, lenses must be ordered in volume to get affordable prices.

The ECO side: Inventory Write-Offs and Unnecessary Waste of Light

Resulting from this, custom optics for a project or niche application are simply not affordable. The minimum order quantities – required to amortize a tool during a project and to get affordable prices – result in gigantic stock levels. Unused parts lead to high financial write-offs – and mountains of wasted lenses, moulds or other components. To avoid this, manufacturers often use standard available lenses, but these do not provide adequate control of lighting, waste energy or come with significant light pollution.

The Digitization of Optics Manufacturing

To digitize optics manufacturing for many optical industries and products, an essential focus is on 3D printing functional optics for LED lighting and various other non-imaging applications.

“Digital Manufacturing will drive the Lighting Industry to tailor every Fixture for improved Light Output while reducing Energy Consumption and global Light Pollution”.

The Luximprint fabrication process and services are continuously evolving through close cooperation with specialized companies and global universities to create more and better printing materials and coatings, to improve the CAD rendering process for print files, and to develop platforms with new design tools. And all of the lenses are ‘ready-for-use’ without any need for post-processing!

Image of handheld printed optic by Luximprint demonstrating surface complexity

Printed Optics – Future Outlook

It is our expectation that all lighting applications that today are addressed by conventional optics, will soon be addressed by additive optics fabrication technologies. Market penetration may not occur that quickly in the basically conventional lighting market but, fortunately, 3D printing is raising a lot of awareness these days, and innovative engineers and visionary designers are adopting the benefits at speed.

Seeing Optics in a New Light

In the next decade, we will also see new types of optics that are not found in the industry today. At Luximprint, we believe that Additive Optics Fabrication leads the path to novel applications in optical design and application, simply because conventional optics technologies don’t have the flexibility and capabilities to move into that direction.

Technology Combinations

Interesting to mention here is also the combination of various additive manufacturing methods/materials. This is also expected to lead to interesting propositions in, for example, optomechanics. Optics and holders can thus be printed in one shot, and mechanical parts can even be integrated into the optics itself.

Combining additive optics fabrication technology with printed electronics or printed quantum dots, just to name a few, will open novel optics solutions for optics with fully embedded features.

There’s many more to say about printed optics. We hope that sharing those few insights will contribute to a better understanding of the state of the industry now and later, and what potentially will impact its direction.

It is our final desire that any lighting professional will have access to fast, flexible and cost-effective solutions for custom optics!

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