by Cassandra Balentine
As three-dimensional (3D) printing advances, it is adopted for manufacturing products and parts. The use cases for this technology are endless, and creative brands utilize it to reinvent industries and get an edge over competition.
Fitz Frames began selling glasses in August 2019. Primarily a direct-to-consumer business, it operates a manufacturing facility in Youngstown, OH. The company currently staffs six employees.
The custom eyewear company’s mission is to solve the challenge of glasses for families. “We make it easy, fun, and affordable to buy made-to-measure glasses from home,” says Heidi Hertel, founder, Fitz Frames.
This is primarily done through its mobile application (app), which facilitates a virtual try-on of frame colors and styles and use facial mapping technology to measure user faces to order prescription or non-prescription glasses that are shipped straight to their door.
Each frame is produced using 3D printers to fit each customer’s unique facial dimensions.
3D printing was an obvious manufacturing choice when Hertel launched the company two years ago. “It was the most cost-efficient method to have the variety of sizes, colors, and shapes of frames I wanted. In combination with the facial mapping technology meant each frame could be tailor-made for each customer,” she says. “The fact we could produce in the U.S. was also very important in terms of product quality and customer service,” she continues.
Before selecting a 3D printer, Fitz Frames researched and tested various printer materials and models. “We met with employees from the printer companies, spoke with experts in additive manufacturing, and modeled glasses for my kids in different materials to get a sense of the look and feel,” explains Hertel.
“Once we printed the glasses samples, we were able to get a better sense of the durability and effects on the frame over time, including areas of wear and tear like the bridge and hinges. We also met with opticians and lens fulfillers to show them the materials and to see how they would impact that process,” she adds.
Fitz Frames currently manufactures its frames with the EOS P 110 printers. This technology was selected because of the quality of product and scaling capacity it offers.
The 3D printed frames have several advantages over traditional acetate glasses. In addition to being tailor-fit for each face, they are also lightweight and durable.
Hertel says the material responds better to heat and cold conditions compared with standard acetate. “We use a 3D printed ball and socket hinge, reducing breakages and eliminating the need for metal hinges and screws. 3D printing also gives us the ability to personalize the frames with the wearer’s name or chosen personalization text inside,” she offers.
Further, the on demand nature of 3D printing eliminates the need to carry an inventory. “We don’t create a frame until it is ordered through our app and the customer has measured their face and selected a frame,” shares Hertel. She says this enables the company to shift business quickly to create new styles as the market demands. “We experienced this recently when COVID-19 surfaced and doctors and nurses needed prescription protective eyewear (PPE),” she says.
With the manufacturing flexibility provided by 3D printing, the company was recently able to pivot its business to meet the needs of healthcare workers treating patients with COVID-19. “Our team worked quickly to develop a product that we heard was needed from doctors and nurses—PPE. Our team was able to design protective eyewear, test it, and refine it to get this PPE out to medical workers in only ten days,” says Hertel.
Made to Order
Another essential differentiator for Fitz Frames is its mobile platform for fitting and ordering. Once a customer orders a pair of glasses through the app, the company receives a digital file at the Youngstown facility. The information is used to print the customer’s individual frame.
Its facial mapping technology gathers thousands of measurement points through the mobile phone camera. “We use these measurements to build a frame designed to fit you, changing elements that traditional optical retailers cannot. So not only is the frame front the right height and width for your face, but more importantly, the bridge shape and size are customized to prevent slippage, the temples are printed at the right length, and angles to sit on your ears properly. We also personalize the inside of the temple—you can print your name, phone number, email address, or anything else you’d like inside,” shares Hertel.
The company also has a lot of freedom in the way it builds its catalogue. “We can try new styles and colors and keep up with current trends. We make it possible for people to no longer be relegated to certain styles that fit their face type. Our glasses are customized for every face, so people can wear shapes that haven’t worked for them in the past,” comments Hertel.
Fitz Frames Frenzy
With modern technology, including a mobile app fitting and ordering process, along with cutting-edge 3D printing manufacturing, Fitz Frames created an entirely new—and dare we say fun—experience for ordering glasses.
“We have many happy Fitz fans,” says Hertel. “People have been amazed by the whole process. Many have shared that ours is the first frame to fit them properly—to achieve that without a store visit is pretty extraordinary. And unexpectedly, over half of our customers are adults.”
The company is excited to dig deep into its additive manufacturing process to do some interesting things in the optical world and beyond. “Not only will we be getting into the adult market and developing more unique designs and features that only 3D printing can create, we are looking into how to solve other problems for items that are highly in demand, both at mass volume scales and custom designed for individuals,” concludes Hertel. IPM
Sep2020, Industrial Print Magazine