4D printing – The Future of Design

Normally, we create things by use of 3D printing and we’re done. After the printing process is finalized, we take our parts and then we assemble them. But what if we want the parts to be able to transform and change their shape over time? If we want them to assemble themselves?

From 3D printing to 4D printing
The promises of 4D printing are truly amazing. Actually, 4D printing is about using a 3D printer to produce self-reconfiguring, programmable material that intelligently arranges itself into basically any object with no need for computers or electricity. Objects are not only be printed, but thanks to geometric code, they could later also change their shape and transform on their own.
4D printing for Lighting
This is just a first blogpost on 4D printing to discover this new dimension to 3D printing. I am curious to see how it will influence the future of the lighting industry as well, after 3D printing is finally is adopted. And how it will lead to new features for lighting development and design.
We’ll keep on watching the progress, I’ll keep you posted in case any crazy things happen!

21st Century Optics Design Engineering

“A Day from the life of John” – 21st Century Optics Engineering

Optics system design and engineering is a pretty genious job. To be taken seriously, you’ll need at least a 10+ years of experience before you’re really recognized as a seasoned ‘senior’. Due to todays ongoing digitization, computers are important to most engineers, as with other fields of engineering. They are used with instruments, in optics design creations and simulations, and for many other applications. Optics designers need to extend their skills by frequent training sessions and study new developer skills.

Optical System Design Challenges
Designing optical systems isn’t an easy job. Optics engineers make use of optics to solve problems and to design and build devices that make light do something useful. It comes with real challenges on the system design itself and the engineering work. Developing new optics solutions requires them to understand and apply the science of optics in substantial detail, in order to understand what outcome is physically possible to achieve. But they also must know what is practical in terms of technologies that are available, materials to use, costs they have to count with, design methods that can be applied, etcetera. Fortunately, most of the work is well known and, if extreme projects appear, you can overcome it easily by bringing in the right skills, study, experience or hire someone from your network to help you out.

Optical Design Frustrations
More frustrating are the challenges that are outside of your own capabilities: prohibitively expensive optics design software, manufacturing tolerances, and most likely a torn in the flesh of every designer: the manufacturing tooling needed to prototype and manufacture the real end product. Expensive upfront investments in tooling, uncertainties about the outcome and tooling limitations are real bottlenecks in the freedom and flexibility of today’s optics designer.

But what if…
Tooling is no longer needed? Your minimum order quantity is as low as one piece? Cost effective trial & error and iterations could be implemented? Design freedom is (almost) unlimited? Here’s the video that I promised in my earlier post. Digital 3D printing of functional optics is just around the corner. And it’s amazingly powerful. Watch – … – recognize – …- act!

Let’s break the mold! Help making the life of Optics Designers easier, spread the word by sharing this video!

The Digitization of Plastics Fabrication (3)

“Printoptical Technology offers Unparalleled Design Freedom to Designers and Luminaire Makers resulting in Optimized Design Processes, a shortened Product Time-to-Market and an overall Increased Competitive Edge”

Optimized Design Processes
The longer an optic takes in the design and prototyping phase, the longer it takes the lighting fixture to get to market, meaning less potential profit for the company. With increasing pressure to get products to market quickly, companies are compelled to make quick yet accurate decisions during the conceptual stage of design. These decisions can affect the majority of total cost factors by establishing material selection, manufacturing techniques and design longevity. Printoptical Technology can optimize design processes for greatest potential profit by speeding iterations through product testing. An optimized design process with more prototype iterations can help minimize risk of product failure. Because Printoptical Platforms can produce optics with fine feature details, designers can be more confident in their work. Making needed changes as early as possible saves money and time. Optics made by 3D printing can give optical designers and engineers a thorough understanding of potential lighting products earlier in the design process than other methods, minimizing the risk that problems will go unnoticed until it’s too late.

Reasons to Adopt Printoptical Technology
The practical reasons for adopting Printoptical Technology are fairly obvious: no tooling required, new design opportunities, easy iterations, fast product availability. However, consider the effects that it can have on the scale and reach of projects. With Printoptical Technology designers are no longer constrained by space or volume limitations, like when they use injection molding. They can build greener, smarter and bigger optics and experiment with all types of new layouts without loss of tooling and investments.

Freeform Optics
Moreover, it is possible to create freeform optics: novel optics that are designed in a asymmetric and complex way. Freeform optics are difficult to make using the traditional fabrication methods, and the making would rather have to be based on ultra-precision machining technology. This novel Printoptical Technology can be widely applied to machining freeform plastic optics. In this way, innovative optoelectronic products can be supplied to the market at a competitive price. Printoptical Technology gives the freedom to suit nearly every optical application, giving the design freedom to achieve the exact optic the maker wants, without compromise.

New ways of design, out of the box thinking
Designers are encouraged to broaden their horizon and to change their ‘mindset’, and start a completely new way of thinking. The results of the design process can be new geometric or freeform shapes that may include transparent prisms or lenses, as well as colored lenses, lens combinations, full color 3D graphics and textures, like integrated surface structures and company logos. Even though the material is deposited in discrete drops, the resulting surface is perfectly smooth. This is accomplished by delaying the time between the jetting of the droplets and the application of UV light, which gives the polymer time to flow and for each droplet to lose its spherical form. The mechanism for surface formation is surface tension, a phenomenon of nature which produces surfaces more smooth that any man-made process can match. Optical quality surfaces are achieved with no post processing.

Advanced multi-lens, integrated in wood grain and matte texture

Advanced multi-lens, integrated in wood grain and matte texture

Shortened time to market
With these digital manufacturing applications, the designers and engineers can make alterations to their optical designs in seconds, and see how every minute change will affect the entire fixture design. The Printoptical Software provides a highly cost-efficient means of producing numerous optical design iterations and gaining immediate feedback throughout the critical beginning stages of the development process. The ability to refine form, fit and function of the optics quickly can significantly improve production costs and time to market. This can create a distinct competitive advantage for those companies who include Printoptical Technology as an integral part of their overall design process. The speed, consistency, accuracy and low cost of this process will help lighting companies reduce the overall time-to-market and maintain a competitive edge. The engineers can properly address all potential problems with an optic before construction begins, they’ll save time, money, physical resources and maximize the efficiency of their team. What would have seemed extremely tedious and time-consuming in the past years – such as designing and setting up an production line, can now be done in a fraction of the time.

Increased competitiveness
Undoubtedly, 3D printing of optics is a step in the right direction for saving our planet. The world economy is in dire straits, and highly respected global lighting companies are laying off workers by hundreds, or have to shut down completely. Local markets are flooded with low-quality, cheap lighting alternatives and suppliers are shutting their doors due to devastating decreases in consumer and OEM demand. Right now, the main question on every manufacturer’s mind is: how do we stay competitive? It turns out that in this case, helping the environment can dramatically help the bottom line. By cutting upfront cost, generating less need for working capital, delivering a high return on investment and contributing to revenue increases, digital manufacturing can save companies money, time and make them even more attractive as a potential business partner.

Thanks for reading part 3/4 of this blog on the digitization of optics fabrication. Next week, the last edition will be published with more views on a ‘third industrial revolution’ and conclusions.

The Digitization of Plastics Fabrication (2)

“The Long Tail Effect for LED Lighting Optics: This New Way of Optics Manufacturing Offers a Greater Product Variety and Higher Profit Margins”

Economies of Scale
Today, if you ask a conventional optics supplier to make an LED lighting optic to your custom need, you will be presented with a daunting minimum order quantity and an up-front cost of tens of thousands of Euros. Your supplier has to cover the costs to produce a mold, and set up their expensive equipment for a long enough production run to warrant the investment. Doing that for one single optical prototype or limited series would be prohibitively expensive. It is true that if you finally start producing thousands of optics at the end, each optic will be much inexpensive, due to ‘economies of scale’. However, the business imperative to achieve such economies of scale has fundamentally distorted the economics of the lighting industry, severely constraining the number of new products that can be introduced, and making it hard to stay abreast of changes in technologies, availability of supply or trends in market demand.

Manufacturing as a Service
Thanks to the invention of Printoptical Technology – 100% digitally run by CAD-driven software – for an additively manufactured LED lighting optic economies of scale don’t matter anymore. This will be a huge advantage for lighting entrepreneurs who are, due to their limited availability of cash, not able to introduce new designs without the cost of a facility or distant manufacturing firm. A significant part of – sometimes very brilliant – product ideas remains unexploited in the desk archive. Thanks to the wide use of 3D-CAD and lighting design software from providers, like Autodesk, Solid Works, Photopia and LightTools, designs can be created easily, endlessly tweaked and converted easily at low cost. The cost of setting up the ‘Printoptical Printing Platform’ is the same whether it makes one thing or as many production lots as can fit inside the machine. Like a printing press that pushes out one or many different print brochures, the machine keep going until the ‘ink cartridge’ – a container with a liquid Polymer – is empty, and the ‘paper’ – raw translucent substrate materials like PMMA and Polycarbonates – needs to be replenished.

The Long Tail effect
Many optics engineers and designers work in the so called ‘long tail’, developing specialty optics, new designs, and lower-volume deployments. The long tail applications rarely have the sales volumes to justify large up-front investments in time or the resources to develop a “full” LED optic. This may be because these are new applications in the initial conception and research stages of a lighting product, or because they are new variations on an existing concept.

The Long Tail Effect for LED Optics: lower investment cost, increased flexibility and a greater product variety.

(Picture 1 – The long tail effect for LED lighting optics. The long tail is a way to describe optics specialties or niche applications in the Lighting Industry)

Revolutionary 3D printing process
Printoptical Technology will allow lighting optics to be produced in one step from a digital CAD file due to the new, revolutionary 3D printing process. Optics can be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibly and with a much lower input of labor, thanks to the use of new materials, processes, and on-demand CAD-based custom manufacturing services. Production is moving away from ‘mass manufacturing’ to ‘mass customization’ and back towards much more individualized production. Customers get a broader array of choices and solutions better fitted to their needs, and manufacturers earn the loyalty and higher profit margins that come with better satisfying individual customer demands and preferences.

This article is the second publication within a range of four articles written on the Additive Manufacturing of LED lighting optics. The next edition – to appear in the next couple of weeks – will explain the benefits for its adopters on design, time-to-market and competition in more detail.

The Digitization of Plastics Fabrication (1)

“Emerging ‘Printoptical Technology’ brings future optical manufacturing to a digital level with optimal flexibility, zero need for tooling and real inventory, including no more obsolete inventory write offs”

You may remember your home cabinets filled up with CD’s, not so long ago. Then the computer industry, most notably Apple, invaded and digitized the music retail supply chain with small portable devices linked to online music stores. The resulting easy production and convenient commercial distribution throughout the world created an accessible stage for thousands of new music “stars” and gave users more choice and a new fast and affordable way of finding and receiving just the music they wanted whenever and wherever they wanted it. Since that time, CDs have started to get rare and the music landscape changed significantly through ‘going digital’. Digital production and inventory revolutionized a massive industry within just a few months.

Another Digital Revolution
In the global lighting industry, there is another digital revolution underway as part of the rapid shift to LED technologies. This time the impact is mainly on the luminaire makers and their suppliers rather than on the end customers, but the changes will be equally profound. The new mode of digital production, digital inventory, and just-in-time supply chain will be for the optical components of their products – the most critical determinant of style, and the industry’s chronic, debilitating “bottle neck” of design, sourcing, and manufacturing. Instead of the delay and expense of making numerous prototypes and then, finally, expensive molds for optics, the new “mold” will be digital – the CAD design file itself. Optics will be produced by a digital automated process directly from the CAD file, on demand, and delivered on a just-in-time basis.

One-step CAD-to-Optic Printoptical Process

One-step CAD-to-Optic Printoptical Process

Figure: One-Step CAD-to-Optic Fabrication, optics directly printed from a CAD file.

Any desired optics can be specified and ordered online in quantities ranging from an economic minimum of just one up to tens of thousands per month, with short lead times, rapid prototyping cycles, and easy made-to-order customization and agile adaptation to design changes or product mix over time.

One practice, one recent development is worth noticing and has been tremendously successful on the front: the “digital manufacturing” of optics through ‘Printoptical Technology’. Printoptical Technology avoids complicated and costly conventional processes used to produce many types of optical components, and allows a quick and easy availability of optical prototypes, low- and larger volume series as well, through a one-step CAD-to-optic manufacturing process. That’s how the manufacturing of LED lighting optics would be like in the future.

Movie: Plastic optics for LED lighting fixtures and many other applications can now be custom manufactured by a new one-step “CAD-to-Optic” 3D-printing process which affords flexibility and freedom of design never before possible. 

Digital Manufacturing Explained
Additive Manufacturing is a collective term that encompasses a number of technologies utilized to produce products directly from digital Computer Aided Design (CAD) files: one step CAD-to-product manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing, sometimes referred to as “3D Printing” or “Rapid Prototyping”, uses an additive process – in contrast to the subtractive processes of milling, turning, grinding and polishing typically utilized in traditional manufacturing to make products directly or make tooling for extrusion or injection molding. Traditional machining methods, which involve cutting away material to achieve the desired complex shape. In sharp contrast additive manufacturing creates parts by building them up with progressive computer-controlled deposition of material, in a process that resembles printing, but with multiple passes over the work until the desired 3D form is achieved. In recent months, nearly all of the leading business publications have featured articles about how additive manufacturing will change how almost all product design and fabrication is done and how this will streamline and accelerate the supply chain for many industries.

Was this article of interest? This first introduction into “Digital Optics Manufacturing” will be continued with more “in-depth” articles coming weeks to help leading industries and professionals to understand this new manufacturing standard. Keep on following!

How LED lighting optics and graphics seamlessly combine

Last time I wrote you, I promised to come up with some attractive results of both functional- and decorative optical designs, as well as some first design impressions of the new 3D printed optics website. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with any decorative design patterns or applications yet. Nevertheless, I expect that the displayed, functional LED lighting optics below will impress you that much, that you will forgive me for now…

Printed LED optics: Fresnel lenses – micro optics – combined grapics

Right, they’re printed! All of them. LUXeXceL’s revolutionary 3D printing process will offer great value to the global LED lighting market. From now on, OEM lighting manufacturers and designers of LED lighting optics will generate significant cost reductions and time savings on the additive manufacturing of their LED lighting optics!

We’ll catch this and more of these revolutionary LED lighting optics in the next upcoming website. I am happy to share you the first design results of the homepage. It needs to be improved slightly, but I guess we’re almost there.

EXXELENS - functional lighting home

Printed LED Optics – Functional Lighting_Homepage

We allow users to switch easily from a ‘functional lighting’ (blue, technical) onto a ‘decorative lighting’ (orange, design full) environment on the right hand top. This is where technical and architectural lighting meets each other. Designs now can go ‘hand-in-hand’ with lens functionality, since it’s possible to foresee a functional LED lighting optic with any graphic elements, structure, typography, etc. The opposite is also true: decorative design lighting can now contain also functional optical structures and elements, e.g. integrated magnifiers.

Decorative, right. That’s exactly what you missed out in this post. But I promise you to come up with that information in one of my next posts.