3D Printing at Luxottica: Total Freedom of Form

3D Printing at Luxottica: Total Freedom of Form

3D printing is an innovative technology that brings together total freedom in design with precision and quickness of production. Luxottica has used this technique since 1998 for plastics and since 2015 for metal, and has gradually implemented it for different uses and materials.

3D Printing at Luxottica

Recently, the collaboration has been strengthened between Oakley and HP, a technology company specializing in hardware, software and solutions for printing and prototyping. The objective is to satisfy the demands of the world’s best athletes with an increasingly larger number of products of the highest quality.

With the HP 3D Jet Fusion printer, Oakley is able to create plastic prototypes with functional parts and take advantage of the technology for its portfolio of sport accessories, equipment and lifestyle products. Always at the forefront of the latest technology, the brand began integrating 3D printing in its design process in 1992 with the silhouette of sunglasses. Starting in 2015, metal started to be used for prototypes of this kind.

The true heart of the prototype at Luxottica is at the Agordo factory where, often in a race against the clock, styles are created to be shown in fashion shows, collections and displays in boutiques. The walls of the prototype department and those of research and development house the know-how of this innovative technology that gives considerable freedom of form, which is now fundamental in the sector.

With regard to metal, until 2015, the transformation of some components from the 3D files to model was outsourced. However, thanks to a partnership with the Swedish company Digital Metal, now the process is fully conducted internally and the prototype is printed directly in metal, which allows for obtaining components similar to those of the final models, namely the ones that are sold and worn.

In addition to reducing production times, 3D printing provides increased freedom in both the creation and production processes. With no need for molds, this type of printing allows for creating complex shapes of any type; working on metal allows you to deliver a prototype that is very close to the final model in both strength and appearance. Eliminating the need for specific equipment is also an advantage for creating small editions.

When it comes to plastic 3D printing, Agordo is the factory that uses the largest variety of technologies (e.g., stereolithography, laser sintering, resin casting), though there are also other printers in the Tristar, Oakley and Tecnol factories.

However, with regard to metal 3D printing, Luxottica has invested in a single technology only available in the Agordo factory. To make a prototype with Digital Metal machinery, think of an inkjet printer: the sheet is fed by a bed of steel powder and then a head—like those found in a printer—releases a polymer ink onto the material. An entire print volume can take up to 20 hours. The printed volume is then placed in a furnace in which the polymer solidifies, thus making it possible to separate the pieces from the powder. Any excess powder is used for the next models.

The components are then positioned in a furnace at over 1,300 degrees Celsius and the final result is the finished product, which, in the meantime, has shrunk by about 20% of the initial volume due to total evaporation of the polymer. To optimize the use of this technology, the Agordo staff was trained directly on site by the Swedish machine manufacturer, and now a close partnership has been established in terms of materials and technology optimization.

With plastic, however, there are still limits in the surface finish. With metal, after an optimization process, the components have a shiny, smooth surface, making it difficult to notice the difference between this product and the one used by other mass production technologies.

Published on Jan 28 2020