Vuzix and Materialise Join Forces to Redefine Smart Eyewear with 3D Printing

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Materialise (Nasdaq: MTLS) has partnered with optical tech firm Vuzix (Nasdaq: VUZI) to expedite the launch of smart eyewear in the market. Integrating 3D printing into the manufacturing process, this collaboration aims to swiftly drive new innovations for enterprise applications, ranging from warehouse operations to surgical rooms. Furthermore, the partnership will empower technology, sports, and entertainment brands to quickly roll out functional, stylish, and affordable smart eyewear.

Commenting on this partnership, Paul Travers, President and CEO of Vuzix, stated, “As our OEM solutions continue to gain traction in support of defense, consumer, and other markets, it is imperative that our manufacturing capabilities evolve to ensure scalability, production speed, and utmost quality. Materialise brings to the table several key advantages that are in alignment with our strategic vision. We are excited to explore the possibilities that this partnership opens up for us.”

This collaboration promises to be mutually advantageous for both pioneers. Materialise, with its three decades of expertise in 3D printing, will offer Vuzix a chance to harness the full potential of its technology in delivering an innovative new range of smart eyewear. Conversely, Vuzix has pioneered developing and manufacturing augmented reality (AR) glasses since 1997. Its AR glasses, utilized across diverse sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics, afford workers hands-free access to crucial information and tools. As Vuzix continues to spearhead advancements in the AR space, this partnership also represents an exceptional opportunity for Materialise to further incorporate and innovate within this domain.

Materialise’s series of designated machines are tuned specifically for 3D printing eyewear frames. Image courtesy of Materialise.

Accelerating innovation

By bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds, AR provides additional information and interactivity to the user’s environment in plenty of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, education, retail, construction, tourism, and logistics, to name a few. For instance, AccuVein employs AR to assist healthcare professionals in easily locating veins in patients, thereby simplifying the processes of drawing blood and inserting IVs. On the other hand, Boeing incorporates AR in their wire assembly process, reportedly enhancing efficiency and minimizing errors.

Other examples include Google’s Expeditions app, which allows students to take virtual field trips and explore historical landmarks, museums, and even outer space in an immersive AR experience. Similarly, IKEA‘s Place app uses AR to help customers visualize how furniture items would look in their own homes before making a purchase. In addition, courier giants like DHL and UPS have incorporated AR into worker training, while construction companies like AECOM utilize AR for infrastructure planning.

This rapidly evolving technology has potential applications in nearly every industry. However, while smart eyewear has transformed the workplace, consumer adoption has been limited due to the lack of compelling applications and fashionable and affordable designs. Furthermore, many companies in the technology, fashion, entertainment, and sports sectors today lack the manufacturing infrastructure to bring these applications to life on a timely basis.

Vuzix and Materialise aim to address these challenges by developing innovative designs that cater to companies looking to introduce fashionable and affordable smart eyewear to consumers. Their offerings will include features such as on-screen displays of speed and heart rate for athletes, push notifications and navigation tools, speech-to-text translation, and augmented reality gaming capabilities. Beyond these, their partnership will offer third-party original equipment manufacturer (OEM) companies a flexible platform for producing smart eyewear. This will include services for creative design development, rapid prototyping, and swift production of small series, ensuring a seamless and efficient production process.

Frames that Materialise can 3D print. Image courtesy of Materialise.

Harnessing the flexibility of 3D printing in smart eyewear production can significantly streamline design cycles, facilitating a more agile response to the rapid evolution of technological advancements. Materialise already operates a dedicated production line for 3D printed eyewear, complete with specialized in-house teams and a robust New Product Introduction (NPI) process to bring creative visions to life.

Since 3D printing can drastically reduce time-to-market, Materialise and Vuzix plan to deliver a finished product in less than three months. This is a significant improvement compared to the eyewear industry’s standard design-to-shipment cycle of 18 months.

A new product introduction process helps design and develop glasses. Image courtesy of Materialise.

3D printing meets AR

Vuzix is not the first AR company to reach out to the 3D printing industry. In 2021, Meta, formerly known as Facebook, acquired 3D printed prescription lenses pioneer Luxexcel to develop a unique technology that enables the production of prescription lenses without the need for traditional polishing or grinding. This acquisition was part of Meta’s ongoing investment strategy to advance the development of AR glasses, which could ultimately supersede smartphones as the primary computing device. With Luxexcel’s technology, Meta can create AR glasses with prescription lenses that are both affordable and comfortable for users.

Rumors are also swirling about Apple, suggesting it is developing an AR/VR headset that might be released this year. The company has not officially confirmed any specifics about the device. However, the rumors hint at high-resolution displays, state-of-the-art cameras, and a sleek design. In addition, the headset could potentially be equipped with LiDAR sensors, enhancing its ability to map the user’s surroundings and provide precise AR experiences. While there are no indications concerning the inclusion of 3D printed parts, the headset is expected to be a high-end device with a price tag to match.

The synergy between AR and 3D printing technologies is undeniable and is starting to be explored more. With AR’s capacity to enhance reality by overlaying digital information onto the real world, it is a great tool for visualizing and adjusting 3D designs before printing. Likewise, 3D printing can bring AR designs to life, providing a physical model to interact with. Vuzix’s collaboration with Materialise is expected to improve both AR glasses by combining the strengths of both companies and providing more sophisticated and innovative products to benefit various industries.

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