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MATERIALISE: the future now

MATERIALISE is one of Europe’s prestigious innovators in the field of 3D printing eyewear, and has worked in the field for over 10 years. 20/20 Europe spoke with Alireza Parandian, who leads the global business strategy for additive manufactured wearables at the company.

Q: Outline for us the evolution of 3D printed eyewear at MATERIALISE? IE when did you start producing 3D printed eyewear, start working with partners etc. and what have been the most important achievements along the way?

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
Alireza Parandian, Founder & Commercial Leader Business Line Eyewear at Materialise

A: We began producing eyewear in 2014 at Materialise in response to numerous requests from companies interested in this application for 3D printing (3DP). There was a diverse range of reasons driving interest in 3DP eyewear, initially sparked by the durable and lightweight material properties. Collaborating closely with Hoet, we delved into the two primary benefits of 3DP: design and production freedom, aiming to push the boundaries beyond traditional manufacturing technologies in terms of complexity, speed, and stock reduction. 

From the outset, we pursued two directions: eyewear manufacturing for design and production freedom, and software development leveraging our expertise in software and customized medical products. Our trajectory involved continuous development, investment, and market testing, alongside collaboration with numerous partners to adapt our products to industry needs. The goal was to inspire industry adoption based on these value propositions, sparking a digital artisanship movement and gradually improving quality to meet industry expectations through cycles of investment and challenges. The next challenge was to prove that this was skin-contact safe and a durable material. With the collaboration of the Seiko Xchanger that won the SILMO d’Or (and which travelled to the north and south pole) we proved that this was the case. Afterwards the eyewear industry embraced 3DP technology.

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
3d printing – Materialise

In 2016, we collaborated with OXYDO By Safilo on Wearable Sculptures, blending intricate sculptural elements with traditional Italian designs, fostering trust in 3DP. Surface quality enhancements in 2018, including a collaboration with Impressio (SILMO d’Or Award), showcased rapid adaptation to the eyewear market. In 2018, we also added luxury materials to our portfolio with 3DP metal (frames such as McLaren and later with Porsche 50Y anniversary frames, 2022), giving brands the option for shinier finishes. This led to more of a pickup in adoption for 3DP. Our focus then expanded to include new sustainable materials, such as bio-based materials, a significant adoption incentive.
Around 2020, we announced smart eyewear initiatives, aligning with the needs of smart technology, and our collaborations received recognition for functionality and aesthetics (MORROW).
The best metaphor to describe what we want to be as Materialise Eyewear is that we want to be a great piano with seven octaves. The brands are the composers who can compose music for their audiences to enjoy. In the last 10 years, we have made and continue to fine tune the octaves and along the way we try to provide the brands and companies, enough variety to bring wonderful eyewear to the market.

Q: At present, what are the services you offer to partners in the optical business who want to launch a 3D printed collection?

A: Our manufacturing services offer partners a standard onboarding process, providing a seamless pathway to delve into the possibilities of AM (Additive Manufacturing) for eyewear. Leveraging our extensive expertise in AM of eyewear, we have refined our process over the years to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. This standard approach serves as a foundational step for partners to explore and understand the potential benefits of integrating 3D printing into their eyewear collections.
In addition to our standard onboarding, we provide custom onboarding services tailored to meet the unique needs and quality standards of individual brands.

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
3d printing – Materialise

This personalized approach is guided by experienced sales engineers and a dedicated team of production experts. Through close collaboration and attention to detail, we strive to align our offering precisely with the specific requirements and preferences of each brand. This tailored approach ensures that partners receive a customized experience that meets their exact needs and expectations.
We also offer a range of personalization options of eyewear collections, with or without a digital experience.

Q: Can you give an example of a collection you have recently developed and explain the innovation and design work behind this new concept?

A: We’ve collaborated with weareannu, who choose a bio-based material for their incredibly thin and lightweight collection. The bio-based material that we use offers extremely high impact resistance and you can achieve very nice colours, muted tones, vibrant and pastel colours. We’ve supported Odette Lunette with this same material for children’s eyewear, which was awarded a SILMO d’Or in 2023.
Yohji Yamamoto wanted to do very unique sculptural frames as limited editions in their collection and these were introduced at MIDO 2024 and we will continue doing this in the coming years.
In the consumer segment of smart eyewear, we have intensively collaborated with MORROW, who was awarded with a SILMO d’Or for their technology.
We are currently working with multiple retailers that offer personalization at scale.

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
Advanced production at Materialise

In September 2023, you announced your intention to 3D print with a new translucent material – please can you explain this development? Are you already putting out designs that are translucent and what are the differences/opportunities in producing with this material?

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
3d printers – Materialise

We are in a pre-commercial stage and still developing and fine-tuning this offering. The new translucent material is the result of five years of extensive trialling of over 50 different materials against the gold standard of established eyewear materials, including tests for bio-compatibility, thermal resilience, and impact resistance.  After looking at these 50 materials, we chose translucent to bring to the market.
Our idea is not to compete with acetate, but this material offers the ability to play with complex shapes, intricate structures, and textures that are impossible to replicate with traditional production techniques, allowing designers to move beyond what is possible with acetate. Multiple projects are currently in the works with partners to ensure there is a product market fit.

Q: Can we expect more new finishes coming up in 3D printed or other new developments? Please outline how you see things moving in next years for 3D printed. (please mention colour and texture of the material if possible). Do you work with 3D printed titanium or other metals?

A: Yes, with translucent we are expecting to have nonporous, smooth and translucent surfaces, and in terms of complexity we can add layers to create depth.
With textures, we have an expert team of designers and engineers that custom develop textures with software from Materialise. This is applied on a variety of frames, using components that can be put together to add multiple colours to the same frame (bi-colour frames).
Titanium or other metals – yes. Titanium is the main precious metal that we offer, in combination with an artisanal manual finishing process, which has been awarded the SILMO d’Or 2018 with McLaren and we have realized it with other luxury collections (Porsche 50Y anniversary frames, 2022).
We think 3DP has established itself as a technology that can offer flexibility and efficiency. As sustainability is becoming a major agenda point, we expect the adoption of 3DP in eyewear to continue strongly in the coming years. We expect our new materials to drive this growth as they offer new possibilities in terms of look and feel.

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
Advanced production at Materialise

In terms of the growth of the 3D printed eyewear segment, is the steadily growing popularity of 3D printed eyewear in part due to its sustainable benefits, or is it more about the customisation aspects of the individual’s frame and the perfection of the fit with this method of manufacture? Please explain from your point of view.

A: It’s both. It brings innovation in four categories:

  • Product innovation – allowing eyewear to be made that was unimaginable before – with complex shapes, fully personalised to anatomical features and visual needs.
  • Supply chain innovation – because it reduces time to market, reduces stock risk and significantly improves carbon reduction compared to traditional. manufacturing technologies for eyewear.
  • Business model innovation – reducing the threshold for companies to enter the fashion market.
  • Customer experience innovation – with digital tools and on demand manufacturing, you can offer completely personalised products.

Q: What is the eyewear Fitting Suite offered by Materialise?

A: The Fitting Suite brings together years of knowledge in front-end and back-end development. It is an end-to-end digital solution that can enable opticians to accurately measure anatomical features of their customers and empowers them to guide their customers through a quite complex frame discovery journey in a way that is fun an engaging. The end result are frames that are fully customized to the needs to the person.

Q: Do you wish to make any further comment about innovation in 3D printed eyewear and its evolution?

A: Materialise is grateful for the collaboration of the eyewear industry during the past decade, to help us utilize the core capabilities of our technology to enable innovative solutions for eyewear and eyecare.

Materialise’s Decade of 3D Printing Excellence
Advanced production at Materialise

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