Interview conducted & written by Misha Lu, Editor of TechTaiwan.
For decades, the Dutch city of Eindhoven has been the linchpin of Taiwan’s powerful contract manufacturing industry, spearheaded by TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer. The home of Philips and ASML, both laid the foundations of TSMC’s success, with the latter still supplying its most advanced lithography machines to the Taiwanese foundry, Eindhoven is also the hometown of another company that will bring Taiwan’s manufacturing industry into a new revolution, catapulting it to a new height.
Luxexcel, founded in 2009, has also found the future of mobile computing. After winning a pitch contest organized by the Netherlands Office Taipei, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and the Taipei City Government in July, Luxexcel has officially joined Taiwan’s tech scene, with a strong foothold. TechTaiwan is honored to talk to Guido Groet, the Chief Strategy Officer of Luxexcel.
A former Vice President of ASML, Mr. Groet is already very familiar with Taiwan’s electronics manufacturing industry, and knows the best way it fits into Luxexcel’s strategic roadmap.
Like every startup, when Luxexcel was founded a decade ago as a 3D printing company, it went through hard times to find application scenarios for its technology, and to sell the future to its customers. At the beginning, the company was printing all sorts of lenses, from automotive, aerospace to industrial optics. “We can print all transparent products,” Mr. Groet says, pointing to the versatility of Luxexcel’s proprietary technology – VisionPlatform™.
Then, Luxexcel found one niche application scenario to make a difference: eyewear. In 2012, Luxexcel printed the world’s first functional pair of glasses. The combination of smart eyewear and prescription glasses, however, is where the Eindhoven company sees its full potential realized. By 2030, 80% of the world population will require vision correction. In Asia, the percentage is likely higher.
When Luxexcel entered the game, smart eyewear manufacturers were not even addressing such demand. Nowadays, when we think of smart eyewear, what surfaces in our mind is likely some chunky glasses better suited for industrial applications than casual scenarios.
Smart glasses that are convenient and light, on the other hand, have only recently gained momentum among big IT companies in both software and hardware sectors. STMicroelectronics, for example, has perceived 2020s to be the decade when augmented-reality glasses replace smartphones. Facebook, likewise, has been in a race to launch smart glasses for everyday use.
The highly customized nature of prescription glasses, above all, is what really makes Luxexcel’s advantage stands out. Its quickly deployable 3D printing technology – replacing about 30 steps usually required to make traditional prescription lens – precisely suits the future need to customize a high volume of smart prescription lens.
“Back then, everyone thought it would take another 20 years for 3D printing to be realized.”
Thanks to the trend, most major IT companies have suddenly reached out to Luxexcel this year. Luckily, Luxexcel entered the industry early enough when nobody else thought 3D printed glasses would be possible, leaving Luxexcel no peers to rival its technology. “Back then, everyone thought it would take another 20 years for 3D printing to be realized.” remarks Mr. Groet. Luxexcel’s early entry into the industry indeed seals its unassailable position today:
“Those who seek cooperations with us always try to find other alternatives, only to return to us weeks later, realizing no one is our match.”
Meanwhile, traditional eyewear industry is not catching up. When asked if Luxexcel considered traditional eyewear manufacturers as its competitors, Mr. Groet’s answer is a firm “no.” Instead of considering the company as disruptive, the Chief Strategy Officer welcomes traditional eyewear makers to be on board. Unfortunately, the industry is quite stubborn. “Initially, we thought they would want to move into smart eyewear,” comments Mr. Groet, “If they don’t join the future, they will disappear.”
Now in partnerships with big IT companies, Luxexcel is ready to take the next step. And this is where Taiwan’s ODM industry enters the picture. According to Mr. Groet, Luxexcel decided to create demonstrator smart glasses, in order to showcase to the big IT companies what the technology can do for their products. Currently it can manufacture thousands of smart prescription glasses with its latest VisionPlatform™7, but to satisfy the mass market, Luxexcel would need to partner with Taiwanese ODMs to scale up its production capability. In return, collaborations with Luxexcel can put an ODM several years ahead of rivals.
Mr. Groet believes that either American big technology companies or their Chinese counterparts will be the first to bring smart prescription glasses to market, and that will ultimately determine where Luxexcel will be based. After winning the competition though, Luxexcel has gained a higher visibility in Taiwan, and leading Taiwanese contract manufacturers have already jumped at the opportunity to be familiar with Luxexcel’s 3D printing technology, recognizing the need to remain in the supply chains of big IT companies as they move into the next frontier of mobile computing.
“The future is not years away – it is today!”
In fact, for the past few years, the Taiwanese ODM industry has already been on the lookout for the next areas of growth, such as EV, and smart glasses have become one of them. For example, Quanta Computer, the world’s largest manufacturer of servers, has recently targeted AI-driven healthcare, and has also been developing smart glasses. Coincidentally, Quanta Computer also participated in the July pitch in which Luxexcel won.
“We started ten years ahead in terms of 3D printing of lenses.” says Mr. Groet, confident that Taiwan’s ODM industry will benefit from Luxexcel’s unrivalled leading position. In light of smart eyewear’s latest developments, ODMs have been keen to accelerate their entries into the new field, before rivals can catch up.
At this stage, Mr. Groet believes that Luxexcel has already secured the beachhead. “We are ready, and we can immediately make products.” he says. It is now for Luxexcel’s partners to decide when they will like to go to market. In the long term, Luxexcel sees a great variety of applications for its technology, especially smart glasses for medical industry. For now, though, Luxexcel is concentrating on realizing its vision for the smart eyewear industry, especially strategic partners who share the same commitment. “The future is not years away – it is today!”