Editorial Feature

3D Printing of Functional Optical Components and Lenses

Printed Solutions for the Solar Industry - Micro-Lens Array

Printed Solutions for the Solar Industry - Micro-Lens Array - Sourced from: LUXeXceL

3D printing has captivated manufacturers worldwide and has truly revolutionized the future of our technological needs. Virtually any component can be realized; plastics, metals and even clear materials can be printed using these gadgets. However, the way a conventional 3D printer builds its components has until now hindered them from producing functioning optics. This is now set to change with the development of LUXeXceL's Printoptical© technology, which allows for the construction of these complicated components.

Problem with Current 3D Printers

The reason why regular 3D printers cannot produce functioning optics is due to the fundamental way a 3D printer constructs its components - in cured layers. When these layers are fused together they form borders in between them.

One of the necessary requirements for a functional optical component is that light must be able to travel through it without being interrupted. The borders existing in traditionally 3D printed components scatter light.

This is not to say that 3D printers can't produce shapes that resemble lenses, in fact they can create components that look like perfect lenses, but they won't work like a lens.

In the 21st century the 3rd industrial revolution began with the rise of the 3D printer. Now with Printoptical© technology, even functional lenses can be created digitally, removing one of the last bottlenecks in many industries

Richard van de Vrie - CEO of LUXeXceL

Another necessity for lenses is that they must have a smooth surface, criterion that the layering system again can not satisfy.

The Solution

Printoptical© exploits the natural flow of liquids to avoid the bordering between layers. When two droplets of liquid touch each other, they join together to become a larger droplet. It was this principle that inspired LUXeXceL to develop a 3D print head that is able to place droplets in very specific places.

Utilising a UV curable clear polymer, LUXeXceL's 3D printer jets droplets into place and then waits for them to naturally combine, before applying the UV light to cure the lens. This avoids the issue of bordering which has haunted conventional attempts to create lenses via 3D printing and perfectly clear products are able to be manufactured.

LUXeXceL have so far used this technology to manufacture a variety of printed optics; Fresnel lenses, customizable LED arrays, flat optical surfaces, linear prism structures and a host of other specialized optical products.

FSIGN - Customized Array

An example of a 3D printed lens array that LUXeXceL produced is for the German company FSIGN.

Their task was the redesign of FSIGN's oneLED table luminaire to make it more suitable for use in small offices and in the lighting of specific work areas. This could be achieved by altering the direct light distribution pattern from a 120° beam angle to a 60° angle. Due to limited spacing between the LED chips and the lenses, traditional optics manufacturers would've had great difficulty producing these for FSIGN.

LUXeXceL used a substrate which was 500 microns in thickness and printed a 6x6 convex lens array onto it. This was able to support 36 individual LED bulbs. It only took the company two weeks to complete the order for FSIGN, a very quick turnaround for such a complicated task.

Why Print Optics?

There are obviously others ways to manufacture optical components. One such method is injection molding in which transparent material is injected into a mold in the shape of the desired product. This will then harden and the mold can be removed. High quality components can be produced this way.

However, creating this initial mold is both expensive and time consuming. In some cases it can take months just fabricating the mold. If a prototype is required for testing then this technique is very unsuitable. If many different optical products are required, expenses can quickly hike up.

Other alternatives include diamond cutting and milling where a large transparent block of material is used to cut components out of. Set up costs for the machinery involved in this process are high and must be repeated to create more products. It is only really suitable for producing single components that require only one set up fee.

Video sourced from: YouTube - LUXeXceL - 3D Printed Optics

3D printed functional optical components are seen as a desirable, viable alternative which can alleviate these problems. Tooling settings, molds for each specific product and other costly set up investments are not required for this method. All that is needed are files with the design of the component that can be loaded into the printer. Changes can be made to these files very easily and designs can be reprinted on demand if changes are required. These changes also come with no additional expense.

The Future is Clear to See

The future of this technology is clearly very bright and, as more industries seek to employ digital manufacturing, will become increasingly popular. The number of materials that can be used in 3D printing seem to be expanding by the day and concepts engineers and designers in the past could only dream of, are now becoming a reality.

Why should we accept a round light distribution on a square painting, or that half of the light output of a street light shines into your bedroom? We should be able to manage the light distribution efficiently and this is primarily a matter of using the right optics. Now with Printoptical© technology, optics can be customized per project, application or even single product

Richard van de Vrie - CEO of LUXeXceL

With LUXeXceL's patented Printoptical© additive manufacturing technique, they envisage a future where everybody will be able to fully customize their own lighting. Public places can be perfectly illuminated and households can be custom-lit. Energy can be conserved, light pollution reduced and daylight can be utilised in a more efficient manner. New applications of this technology can help to revolutionize everybody's daily lives.

Sources and Further Reading

Various 3D Printed Optical Products

A 3D Printed Fresnel Lens - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Printed Lens Array in Table Lamp - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Form 120° to 60° Beam Angle - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Decorative Optical Surface - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Decorative Optical Surface - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
3D Printed Stepped Lens - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Printed Lens Array - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Printed Decorative Optical Surfaces - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Example of a 3D Printed Array in a Single Go - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Effects of a 3D Printed Prism Structure - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Color Blended Optical Components - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Variety of Lens Combinations - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Printed Solutions for the Solar Industry/Micro-Lens Array - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Interchangeable 3D Printed Optics - Image Courtesy of LUXeXceL
Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.

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