Using 3D Printing to Design Beautiful Eyewear
Based in the vibrant city of Montevideo, Uruguay, our April 2019 Hackers of the Month are creating a new model of production, style, and sustainability for eyewear with their start-up company, MVD Frames.
Andres Roppa and Alberto Menestrina are both long-time product engineers who come from an industrial engineering background. Their first exposure to 3D printing was around 2002 when a college trip took them to the wind tunnel at an engineering facility that was evaluating the facade performance for a future building; the scale model was created using stereolithography.
Several years later in 2011, they both started participating in design contests for 3D printing sponsored by Shapeways and Materialise, as well as others. Also at this time, Alberto was working full-time at a product design studio that focused on electrical devices and used rapid prototyping on a daily basis. Because there were no industrial grade printers in Uruguay at the time, the design files had to be sent to Brazil for printing!
In a somewhat different timeline for most of us, they were able to cut their teeth on SLS (selective laser sintering) additive manufacturing processes but then moved on to smaller scale FDM (formed deposition modeling) processes to create their incredibly stylish MVD frames.
Where did the inspiration come for the MVD Frames business model? Andres explains, “We are rethinking how to make eyewear, and why we should make it in the first place. We develop products that have more meaning for the user... in terms of the user and not the industry, moving away from mass production and consumption.”
The result is nothing short of amazing. Using mainly manual polishing techniques, Andres and Alberto create stunning eyewear at a fraction of the cost of high-end designer labels. The reason behind this hands-on approach speaks volumes, “Our project revolves around the idea of combining digital with natural, so we are using hemp and coffee filled PLA among other composite filaments from 3DFuel and other brands to continually test new options. We want to demonstrate how these materials can be combined with our design approach to achieve high-end quality products that can meet tough requirements.”
The use of 3D printing has allowed them to develop and fabricate models quickly to validate their product ideas. The turn around time in being able to troubleshoot and reprint flawed designs has greatly reduced their development time in creating new ideas and products.
“Our eyewear is born out of the digital era, but with a handmade touch that makes each frame unique. So, we combined new technologies, like 3D printing, with natural materials and manual processes to create an innovative production method.”
“We design high-quality frames within a multisize concept, with the user in mind, creating a stronger and longer lasting bond. Our collections adapt and evolve organically without leftovers, because that is how nature does it, and that is how it should be.”
Why did they choose eyewear? “Eyewear is the perfect product to improve with 3D printing. Take customization, for instance; small scale production, meeting specific user needs, etc. For now, we are concentrating on comfort and fit while using more sustainable materials. But some improvements are not that visible because they are related to processes happening backstage. For instance, our lens provider is very excited to find that many issues that are related to lens fitting and other lenses/frame processes can be solved quickly and according to their needs. There are inherent problems with conventional injected and acetate frames, that we can avoid thanks to the material and technology.”
What is it about 3D printing that makes this design so intriguing? “Besides the eyewear itself, which we design by taking advantage of the inherent benefits of additive manufacturing, we are constantly using the technology to solve specific daily issues on other processes we need. We print customized templates for laser engraving eyewear parts for instance, among other quick solutions to aid in assembly. These solutions are simple, nothing fancy, but they are so quick and low cost, which is ideal for us at this point.”
“We hope to make more comfortable, better fitting eyewear for the user. We focus on making each design and collection a bit more advanced in terms of taking advantage of additive manufacturing. This approach has also helped other eyewear startups for which we have developed designs with specific requirements. Apart from eyewear, we did some design and printing for human and animal orthosis and technical aids. This was a side project that Alberto was leading with another team.”
Another benefit of using 3D printing in their production is the collaboration factor. It has allowed them to connect with global clients on several projects. It has opened a new way of working, making business opportunities available to them that would have been impossible to implement 10-15 years ago.
As is apparent in their design and manufacturing process, they hope to see 3D printing dramatically reduce the environmental impact of production, and not just another medium to create even more useless plastic gadgets - and they constantly critique themselves on this metric as well!
For now, Andres and Alberto are looking to expand their eyewear designs by collaborating with other brands, while taking the time to make sure that people are educated in the design, conceptualization and responsible use if 3D printing technology. A measure of their success seems to lie in their perception that the human side of 3D printing is what needs to be upgraded because the technology is already getting cheaper and easier to use extremely quickly.
We look forward to seeing even more designs and the world domination of the 3D printed eyewear market by Andres and Alberto! For more of what MVD is up to, you can visit their website here:
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