After nearly 80 years with minimal innovation, the foam industry is now employing 3D printing to produce products that are more comfortable, safer, lighter, and can be customized for each individual. Now EOS North America and its Additive Minds applied engineering team launched their Digital Foam program – a hub orchestrated by EOS connecting CAD, materials, part qualification, and additive manufacturing.
In this hub, the complexity of bringing 3D printed foam to-market has now been simplified by giving customers a fast-track to producing 3D printed protective headgear, individualized orthotics, or performance footwear, among dozens of other applications.
Using highly flexible polymer materials, like TPU or PEBA, 3D printing foam allows unprecedented fine-tuning of each voxel for superior comfort, safety, and performance characteristics. The process is a sophisticated endeavor that historically requires complex engineering and long cycle times to fully unlock its value.
“The level of engineering required to produce, say, a safer football helmet is massive, but the benefits are equally massive for end-users,” said Dr. Greg Hayes, senior vice president of applied engineering at EOS North America. “The program was designed to make those huge improvements much easier and less time-consuming for organizations.”
Digital Foam begins with engineering software from New York City-based nTopology, which is used to simplify engineering design, analysis, and preparation processes. “Digital Foam accelerates the adoption of 3D printing, enabling tunable architected materials like foams.,” commented Bradley Rothenberg, CEO of nTopology. “This improves upon basic applications making them exceptional — for example helmets that are not only safer but also lighter-weight and more comfortable.”
Aetrex, a global leader in foot-scanning technology, orthotics, and comfort footwear is among the companies already employing Digital Foam. Through its partnership with EOS, Aetrex uses a Digital Foam approach to analyze customers’ feet using its proprietary Albert scanning system, identify pressure points, and then produce custom 3D printed orthotics. The result is an individualized orthotics product, manufactured via mass customization, that is affordable, lightweight, and perfectly matches each individual’s foot.
“What Aetrex is doing is a perfect example of how Digital Foam can make 3D printed foam applications mainstream in the digital-manufacturing era,” added Hayes. “We have created a sophisticated but easy-to-use solution that connects dozens of dots in the value chain, delivering better products to the market faster than ever.”
EOS and its partner organizations will be submitting a Digital Foam entry as part of its NFL Helmet Challenge submission, competing to engineer and develop football helmets that outperform today’s models. The winner of the NFL Helmet Challenge will be announced in May 2021.