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Glasses are often more than just an aid for those of us with poor eyesight; they also make a fashion statement. Whether with that opportunity we want to emphasize pure practicality or lead others to believe our lives are a walk on the wild side, there are no shortage of designers and designer options for eyewear. One of the world’s largest producers of eyewear, Safilo, recognizes the cutthroat nature of that competition and has been harnessing the rapid prototyping benefits of 3D printing to be able to iterate and bring to market their vision for vision.

The company has adopted the J750 full color, multi-material 3D printer from Stratasys to help it reduce the time necessary for the production of its frames by four-fifths, from 15 hours on average to a mere 3 hours. This has the Product Sample Coordinator at Safilo, Daniel Tomsin, feeling very positively about the impact that the technology is making on behalf of their company:

“With our Stratasys J750 3D printer, we can design and output prototypes within a matter of hours. What’s more, using the 3D printer’s large build tray, we can produce several variations of the frames in the same print job which helps to reduce our product development costs while stimulating more creative development.”

img_6317Fashion can be extremely fickle, changing more often than the winds. Keeping up with those trends, and even being just in front of them, requires the ability to nimbly produce and to do so in such a way that a company can remain economically viable. It makes sense that the fashion industry would be among the leading adopters of 3D printing technologies, perfectly suited to their needs for rapid production and ease of variation. Retooling has to be done quickly enough to respond to changing market trends, and that is exactly what Safilo Creative Designer Associate Director David Iarossi says he can now do with access to advanced manufacturing technologies:

“This is the start of a new age for designers. Thanks to the Stratasys J750’s ability to combine a near endless gamut of striking colors with varying levels of transparency, we can produce a number of completely different frames. This allows us to perfect multiple designs early, enabling us to launch the latest fashion eyewear on-time and maintain our competitive edge. Stratasys 3D printing is fantastic as the frames surpass those produced manually, particularly as we no longer need to worry about the paint fading as the color is integrated into the 3D printed frame.”

The shift from a prototype that was via CNC and then hand finished to one that is created entirely on the 3D printer is equal to about a 60% time savings. However, it raises the question that must always be present when older techniques are supplanted by the new: is there something about the handcrafting process that is important to design? Designers understand that making is not a thing apart from creation, not just a process by which something is brought into being, but a part of its development as well. For this reason, the ability to rapidly prototype has an impact on design not just in how quickly it can be made, but how that affects the thought process that accompanies design. Is this introduction of rapid production something that pushes out a vital part of the process or is it, as it seems that Iarossi believes, something that liberates the designer, allowing her/him to change ideas with greater ease and possibly therefore releasing potential previously unrealized in the more laborious process?

sa6031_gs8Ironically, only time will tell, but for now Safilo seems to feel unequivocally hopeful about what is offered through the integration of this technology into its workflow. I would probably best be equipped to understand it if I were wearing a beautiful pair of glasses, and that, dear readers, is as broad of a hint as I know how to drop. Discuss in the 3D Printed Glasses forum at 3DPB.com.

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