Voxel8's Mass Customization
Posted on Monday, October 29 2018 06:09:00 PM in News by Charlie White
Major companies such as Adidas and Nike believe the footwear industry will be among the first to adopt 3D printing technology for mass production. This is true for mass customization and until now the focus has been on 3D printing the outsole and midsole. A Startup, Voxel8, is ready to look into the rest of the shoe. The company introduced ActiveMix, which is a process that extrudes and colors advanced polyurethane materials. Professor Jennifer Lewis has been working on material extrusion for more than 2 decades. Her research has offered breakthroughs that will help Voxel8’s technology. After building up extrusion for its 3D printing system Voxel8 is focusing on engineering-grade polyurethanes. These materials are printed using the company’s ActiveMix system, which is a machine that the company has names ActiveLab. The extrusion head uses a complex pump system to enable control of composition, geometry, and mechanical properties of printed features on users and other 3D shapes. Because of this Voxel8 is able to 3D print polyurethane patterns on any surface.
ActiveLab is tailored for prototyping and short runs, with coloring, carried out on a separate machine. The process adds degrees of automation to an approach that is usually labor-intensive. Voxel8’s technology will enable mass customization to the uppers and bring digital design and manufacturing to the customer. The company’s textile materials come in a variety of forms, including rolls, flat knits, and engineered meshes. The production system will be modular to accommodate all of these. It will have an array of print heads which deposit the first polyurethane layer with zonally tuned material properties, after which an inkjet head will apply the color before an array or extrusion heads print the second layer. Next, an integrated curing over will cure the materials in minutes. Lastly, a laser cutter will cut out the upper’s shape. Voxel8’s success could help close the gap between 3D printing and the end-users.