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.

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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!

Simplifying Optical Prototyping by ‘Printoptical Technology’

“How Additive Optical Manufacturing can help OEM Lighting Manufactures and Optical Designers creating new designs, customize them and change optical products easily, market them faster, and increase the overall supply chain efficiency along the way”

Birth of a new Key Technology
Printoptical Technology’ is a new industry key in additive manufacturing and volume production of LED lighting optics, innovated by the Dutch LUXeXceL Group. It is a brand new form of “additive manufacturing’, otherwise known as 3D printing, focusing on the ‘on-demand’ printing of prototypes, mid – and high volume series of LED lighting optics.

Printoptical Revolution
I recently noticed that experts have called this year 2012 “the year of 3D-printing” and they expect this technology in general to break into the mainstream market on short term with new industrial viability. As “industry insider” I think they’re right. As part of this, the coming of Printoptical Technology will stimulate and speed up that process of market change significantly. Personally, I believe that this new (disruptive) Printoptical Technology is going to cause a revolution in the manufacturing of optics and will change the manufacturing landscape as we know it dramatically.

The so called “Printoptical Revolution” has started early 2011 and the developments to the technology have allowed companies involved in the LED lighting industry saving time and money, while significantly shortening the time-to-market and increasing customization capabilities at the same time.

Printoptical Technology – at a glance
Let me highlight some key benefits of this technology for the global LED lighting market:

• Significant reduction of development cost and time;
• Shortened time-to-market;
• Simplified supply chain;
• Functional, customized optics easily printed;
• Simple or complex optics produced “on-demand”;
• Easy in-process lens modifications;
• Free-form optics, virtually in any shape;
• No excessive start-up and tooling cost;
• One single manufacturing process;
• Integrated optical- and fixture design;
• New design opportunities.

Optical Prototypes and production series can be printed easily, on demand. Moreover, it will bring designers plenty of new opportunities in design and functionality, thanks to the unique digital way of designing and the opportunity to run “single-job” printing process. The creation and short term availability of optics has never been so easy and quick!

Diverse printoptical products printed in one single shot

Finally, I am really sorry for this long post and taking so many of your time. But I trust this topic has your special interest, that’s why I am happy to explain this promising technologies’ backgrounds in more detail. Thanks for your interest and spending your time here.

If you are willing to experience more on this topic, I can recommend you a recent article in LED Professional Review (LPR), the leading worldwide authority for LED lighting technology information: http://bit.ly/GDtTMF (page 50-54).