By Lasitten, via Wikimedia Commons
University of Eastern Finland's Joensuu Campus
The Institute of Photonics at the University of Eastern Finland has teamed up with Dutch company LUXeXceL, which offers rapid prototyping of optical components for prototypes, short-run and volume batches.
Professor at the University of Eastern Finland Jyrki Saarinen first made contact with LUXeXceL, the Dutch Inventor of the Printoptical Technology, last year.
LUXeXceL has developed a unique digital 3D printing method with the ability to print of optical quality components, such as lenses. With the known 3D printing processes, all parts need to be post-processed (grinding, polishing or painting). In contrary to conventional 3D printing, LUXeXceL's digital Printoptical manufacturing process is able to print smooth surfaces, can print lenses from a CAD file and can combine those optics with full color textures. The printed surfaces are directly smooth and do not require post-processing.
Professor Saarinen was impressed by the quality of LED optics that LUXeXceL printed as optics is difficult to 3D print and actually cannot be easily created through printing layer on layer. The Dutch company nevertheless managed to develop its unique technique, which is capable of printing the optical quality of the components.
Professor Saarinen explained: "This unique process is a great base to develop photonics 3D printing. From this base we can start further optimisation processes and Research and Development to built in features that have not previously been carried out. The aim is to take advantage of the printer with other modern manufacturing photonic devices such as laser ablation and see what they offer."
Founder and CEO of LUXeXceL Richard van de Vrie added that he too is pleased with this cooperation.
He said: "People become convinced that the digital manufacturing revolution will change the game and companies are looking for answers how to manufacture with digital methods.
"In the optical space LUXeXceL has invented such process to create optics on demand. Our company has the ingredients to become a global player in the 21st century optical industry, and therefore I am excited that such a cooperation with the University of Eastern Finland helps to accelerate this process."
He added: "This University is becoming the leading European R&D center for optics and photonics and we are looking forward to collaborate with Professor Saarinen, his team and other European companies to further increase our printing capabilities and to bring photonics 3D printing in Europe at a world leading level."
The first phase of the project spans 18 months and the majority of funding - €950,000 (£803,000) - comes from the EU 2007 structural funding instrument of Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.
In addition to LUXeXceL and the University of Eastern Finland, the project funders and partners include the Finnish companies Nanocomp Ltd, Oplatek Group Ltd, Thermo Fisher Scientific Ltd, Millog Ltd, Idman Airfield Lighting Ltd and Nanobakers Ltd.
Both digital printing process and software will become important tools to drive the customisation and on demand offering aspects of optics and photonics.
Professor Saarinen noted: "In my previous business life in the optics industry, there were so many product ideas but the tooling requested huge upfront investments, inventories and long inflexible R&D cycles. That kept us away from a lot of new product research. And small volume productions usually had to be made by hand and were very expensive.
"Now I foresee that 3D printing will become an important manufacturing method starting for small batches, single items and complex designed structures. It is a revolution as regards component availability, development and manufacturing speed, and the concept of customisation."
The project will take off quickly as an improved printing platform for 3D printing photonics and is expected to be ready at the end of this year.