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Building the future with 3D printing

By Ludmila Keightley
3D printing technology has already led to major developments in optics, but the best is still to come. LUDMILA KEIGHTLEY details some of the milestones that 3D printing will soon surpass.

The earliest known lenses are believed to have been created in 750 BC from polished crystal. There have since been countless changes in optical technology, with 3D printing primed to start the latest revolution.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the automated process of building a three-dimensional object by adding layers of material.

A 3D model is required to create a 3D printed object, which is ‘printed’ as successive layers of material are laid down until the final product is complete.

The technology is seen as having a huge potential for growth, with the global 3D printing industry already estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

It has also found utility in healthcare, with metal casting for dental crowns, hip and knee implants, hearing aids, orthotic insoles, personalised prosthetics and other one-off implants just a few of the devices that can now be 3D printed.

Apart from all this, the optical industry is home to some of the most exciting new applications.

Made to order

Thanks to progress in engineering and technological design, we are currently pushing the boundaries of the amazing possibilities in optics opened up by 3D printing.

"Just imagine if you could scan your customer’s eye and immediately produce a custom pair of glasses by printing them on your store’s 3D printer"

While this technology has been successfully used in the health industry to make custom hearing aids, dental fixtures and prosthetic limbs, there are many benefits 3D printing brings to lens technology, frame manufacturing and the creation of prosthetic eyeballs.

Dr Song Hongxin, an ophthalmologist and researcher at the Beijing Tongren Hospital in China, has designed 3D printed spectacles for corrective vision, and uses them to help patients with keratoconus.

The idea behind this specific design is that a custom 3D printed lens could perfectly fit the deformed cornea, and eventually stabilise the sight of a patient. In an interview with Beijing News, Dr Hongxin said that he is able to use a blueprint of a patient’s cornea to fully customise the 3D printed glasses to fit corneas of various shapes.

In another example, US based Advanced Artificial Eyes uses a high quality, full colour 3D printer to customise not only their patient’s prosthesis eye shape, but also eye colour.

Improperly shaped or fitted eye prosthesis are not only uncomfortable, but might also lead to facial deformity.

Designs for Vision

With the new state of the art 3D printing technology and high-resolution printers, specialists can produce custom eyes with a multi-coloured iris that perfectly matches the patient.

Other science institutes have attempted to cure cornea related diseases with the help of 3D printing.

The Instituto de Investigación Biomédica del Hospital La Paz, Madrid, started a five-year long collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to 3D print cornea replacements.

Furthermore, in May 2018 scientists at Newcastle University, UK, were able to successfully 3D print artificial corneas in under 10 minutes.

These, as well as many more innovations, are poised to define the optical sector's future.

Printing the future

Scientists claim that in the near future, advanced 3D technology will make our 3D printed dreams become reality.

Just imagine if you could scan your customer’s eye and immediately produce a custom pair of glasses by printing them on your store’s 3D printer.

These potential uses are why 3D printing has become so important in education. It provides hands-on experience, making technical subjects engaging and fun.

Research demonstrates that topics that are theoretical and dry become attractive and captivating through the use of creativity, technology and hands-on experience.

Furthermore, early immersion in new technologies has a potential impact on a student’s imagination and ideas.

It also helps them realise that designing is a process of trial and error, which often may involve several prototypes before getting it right.

In August 2018 RMIT City Campus opened the RMIT University Maker Space for staff and students to design, create, experiment and explore.

The project and facility were developed and designed by interior decoration and design students. The winner, Keira Kailun Wu, in collaboration with Lyons architects developed, supervised and brought the project to life.

The Maker Space provides access to cutting edge tools and equipment such as 3D printing, 3D carving, 3D scanning, laser cutting and engraving to help staff and students create, investigate and excel

We hope the Maker Space can be a place for the RMIT community to come together, share their skills and learn from each other.

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