The 3D factor
The co-owner of Ayrshire-based independent Urquhart Opticians, Peter Telfer, talks to OT about introducing 3D-printed eyewear into practice
Why is introducing 3D eyewear to an independent opticians a good idea?
3D eyewear has been on the horizon for a number of years and we believe that the technology is beginning to get to a stage where it can produce the quality of product that Urquhart Opticians clients would be happy to wear. Our clients want choice, they want individuality and they want to feel in control. Having a 3D printer means that we can deliver all of this for increasingly demanding clients, differentiating our business and reinventing how people view our service.
How has it been received by customers?
Initial feedback has been very positive and clients have been asking about a whole range of options – from novelty eyewear at Halloween to colour matching an outfit for a wedding. The opportunities are limited only by imagination and while our current prototype frames took around three hours to print, the technology is advancing to a stage where this time will be cut down quite considerably. We see a future where a client could book a design consultation with one of our dispensers and we would use software to design their ‘perfect spectacles’ which will be made to measure and are personalised to the client. We also have an ambition to align Urquhart’s with other local suppliers to see if we could perhaps add diamonds or other unique items to the eyewear.
What did producing the prototype involve?
The prototype was made using a design from Thingiverse, a website dedicated to making digital designs for physical products. The design was programmed into the printer and the process took three hours per pair. The challenging part was getting a small screw through the sides to connect it to the mount of the frame. Glazing the spectacles was surprisingly easy and the printer even picked up the detail of creating a groove for the lens to be fitted in. The detail that the printer delivered was quite amazing.
Will you develop a whole collection once the prototype is finalised?
At the moment we don’t have plans to develop a collection. We see the opportunity as being for clients who want a bespoke frame on an individual basis. The commercials probably don’t quite stack up as yet in terms of producing a collection, but this is changing all of the time. If we did look at a collection, I would imagine we would do it with a local supplier.
Why do you think it’s important for independents to embrace technology such as this?
Urquhart Opticians has been proudly independent for over 100 years. For us, embracing technology and driving innovation enables us to add value for our clients. 3D printing is very much an opportunity for independents to do as our clients expect and deliver a different, enhanced service whilst remaining at the forefront of technology. If we don’t change and evolve, then someone else will – and they’ll take your business without a doubt.
When do you hope to be able to roll this out to patients in your practices?
We’ve got a very strong relationship with the supplier of this 3D printer – Ivory Solutions – so we will be working with them to monitor the development of the printers. We want to see them at a stage where they can deliver optical quality frames within a commercially viable timescale. We think we will be there quite soon and the client journey could be an eye examination, design consultation, frame build, glazing and fitting, all within one day. That’s a pretty special experience we think.