AMS Spring 2023

Meta Buys Lens 3D Printing Firm Luxexcel for AR Glasses


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Facebook owner Meta (Nasdaq: META) has bought Belgian-Dutch optics 3D printing firm Luxexcel. Founded in 2009, the company’s proprietary resin 3D printing processes can make optically clear lenses for eyeglasses, LCD screens, waveguides, lenses with integrated projection areas for augmented reality (AR), lenses with integrated electronics which can be placed in during the print process, prescription lenses, lenses with integrated LCD film, bifocals, and armatures.

It has been suggested that Luxexcel may have been a supplier to Meta on its Project Aria, la testbed for capturing the wearers´ immediate surroundings and building Meta’s 3D assets. The firm reportedly had less than $3 million in revenue, but there must have been something in Luxexcel´s technology that interested Meta.

By mass customizing lenses, including those with a prescription, with integrated screens, LCD s, and other electronics, the 3D printing firm ticks a lot of boxes for Meta. With Luxexcel, Meta could have a scalable process to make mass customized lenses for its AR platforms. This could give the firm an edge in manufacturing and usability.

We often forget that as much as 70 percent of older people in wealthy nations need glasses, contacts, or other forms of eyesight correction. In the US a quarter of children wear glasses or contacts.This would typically mean that they would have to wear an additional pair of glasses beneath their AR or VR glasses in order to see them properly. AR and VR headsets are also bulky, sweaty, and uncomfortable. The need to wear glasses only exacerbates this problem. Indeed super sleek AR and VR glasses would be inhibited by this to a certain extent.

With Luxexcel, Meta could now develop prescription AR or VR sets that can be lighter, sleeker, and wouldn’t require additional glasses. This could increase wearer comfort. Additionally the company could integrated projection areas in the glasses and pick and place electronics inside during production. Optically clear 3D printing is problematic, but Luxexcel has an advantage. Other processes that may lead to optically clear glasses do not easily allow chips, waveguides and batteries to be placed inside them during printing. All this means that this could be a very smart acquisition for Meta, permitting it to produce more comfortable glasses for its metaverse play.

Reportedly Meta is spending $10 billion a year on creating the metaverse, so a small acquisition is represents just a rounding error for it. This is rumored to be a big payday however for investors KLA-Tencor, SET, PMV, Innovation Industries, and Munich Venture Partners who have put over $22 million in the firm.

The lesson here is that an individual firm´s ability to create optimal shapes could make winners out of much bigger firms in much bigger battles. 3D printing may only be a $10.6 billion industry, but, by making better turbine blades and rocket engines, additive manufacturing is the key technology in opportunities worth tens of billions. An optimal geometry may be the tip of the spear for new markets, industries and fortunes that have ramifications way beyond 3D printing.

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