With revenues of over 9bn Euros, 85,000 employees, and 9,000 stores worldwide Italian Luxottica is the global leader in eyewear design, manufacturing and retail. Luxottica today has an unmatched brand portfolio of owned and contracted brands (over which Luxottica holds full design rights) (Fig 1), and is fully vertically integrated from eyewear design to manufacturing, distribution and retail sales.
Plastic frames by Luxottica are manufactured using either a milling or an injection molding process, where up to 75% of every acetate sheet from which most plastic frames are cut is thrown away. As frames are a relatively simple product, there a few efficiencies to be gained in terms of simplifying the process (a benefit more likely to be realized in complex products like engines). However, given the quantity of waste, the materials cost in traditional manufacturing is likely to come under scrutiny as either the price of crude oil and resins increase, or as the throughput time of additive manufacturing technology becomes shorter and it becomes a viable alternative to traditional methods used for high volume SKUs.
Additive manufacturing can transform the process by two major ways, either by limited customization, where the main benefit of the technology is realized by customers from receiving frames that are tailored in size, fit, color, and manufactured to order, and where the benefit to Luxottica is realized through better inventory management and lower net working capital requirements, but where the base design is still done in house.
The other way in which the technology can improve the processes is through fundamentally changing the way in which the company approaches product development. By enabling the consumer to design his or her eyewear from start to finish, there is an opportunity to create a space of creativity through process innovation that will appeal to more individualized consumer preferences, in addition to the operational benefits realized in limited customization. In a seasonal industry with fast turnaround of collections, the supply chain benefit of made to order cannot be overstated.
One of the problems with the current technology is the speed of manufacturing – it is still too slow for a manufacturing giant like Luxottica to shift to fully 3-D printed frames. Even today Luxottica uses additive manufacturing for certain parts of the frame, however the usage is limited to simple parts within the broader supply chain or for prototyping and R&D work. The reality is however that the consumer benefit of additive manufacturing has so far been limited.
Scaling additive manufacturing capabilities is difficult and capital intensive, however, given the number of new entrants into the 3-D printed frames space, building the customer base and brand recognition early on is crucial. Luxottica has both the financial capabilities and experience to invest to own the space, whether it be through in-house R&D and organic growth, or through tuck-in M&A of the number of consumer technology companies in the additive manufacturing space.
There are several innovative start-up exploring both avenues – a route for Luxottica to enter is through an expansion of their M&A strategy from vertical consolidation and brand acquisitions to acquiring pure manufacturing capabilities and knowledge. Materialise and Safilo created a joint capsule collection called OXYDO in 2017 focusing on ‘wearable sculptures’ where the focus is on the manufacturing side vs. the design and supply chain side. Chemicals company BASF has also partnered with Safilo on eyewear technology and Danish Monoqool designs collections that are also only manufactured with 3-D printers, but with limited customization. German based DyeMansion 3-D prints a variety of products to order and has experience in the eyewear space with a partnership with ic! berlin. A potential issue is anti-competitive concerns given their foothold on the eyewear market, and given the limited size of the alternative players, the benefit of growing the additive manufacturing capabilities in house could be substantial.
The question then remains on whether in a world shifting toward cheaper contact lenses, is additive manufacturing of custom frames just a temporary solution to a secular decline of framed eyewear, or a way to keep frames relevant?
 Luxottixa Group, 2017 Annual Report, p.17, http://www.luxottica.com/sites/luxottica.com/files/luxottica_group_relazione_finanziaria_annuale_2017_eng_20180328.pdf, accessed November 11 2018.
 Michaels, Daniel. “Design Your Frames: 3-D Printing Comes to Eyewear.” Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2018.
 A. Brown. Chain reaction: Why additive manufacturing is about to transform the supply chain. Mechanical Engineering 140, no. 10 (October 2018): 30–35.
 All3DP. (2017). Safilo Group and Materialise Launch Funky 3D Printed Eyewear. [online] Available at: https://all3dp.com/safilo-group-materialise-eyewear/ [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
 Seeing in Colour: Dyemansion Gives 3d Printed Eyewear a Vibrant Finish. Laura Griffiths – https://www.tctmagazine.com/3d-printing-news/seeing-in-colour-dyemansion/