L&T: Through My Lens

Oct
2012

Let’s Print Some Frames

If someone told me a few years ago that you could make your own eyeglass frames at home, I would have thought they were kidding. Assemble the parts from a kit, maybe. But make them entirely from scratch? No way.

Thanks to the technology of 3D printing though, it is now possible to design and make your own frames. All you need is a 3D printer from a company such as Maker Bot, which costs less than $2,000, a supply of plastic filament material that the printer uses to form objects and a data file with a frame design. Press a few buttons and presto! Out comes your frame.

Think I’m kidding? Check out thingiverse.com and do a search for “glasses.” You’ll see lots of do-it-yourself eyeglasses that people have designed and made themselves. Most of these glasses are crude. But people are putting lenses in these things and wearing them.

Although 3D printing is new to consumers, frame manufacturers already use the technology for rapid prototyping. At least one company, Make Eyewear in Ft. Worth, Texas, is producing 3D printed frames and selling them commercially.

Where’s 3D printed eyewear going? My guess is that the technology is soon going to get more sophisticated and even less costly, and that will enable more people to produce more refined frames. Perhaps one day soon we’ll even be able to print lenses. It’s not that farfetched. Researchers have already used 3D printing to produce an experimental, artificial human kidney, and work is underway on other organs and body parts.

So here are some questions to ponder: Will eyecare professionals be able to print brand name frames on demand if they don’t have a particular frame in inventory? Will it lead to more private labeling of frames? Will consumers who make their own frames stop wearing conventional frames? Will a black market develop for 3D printed frame knockoffs?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

—Andrew Karp
akarp@jobson.com

 

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