Dec 7, 2017 | By Tess

3D printing company Carbon says that its ability to 3D print complex and varied lattice structures  from a range of elastomeric materials will enable it to impact and even disrupt the slowly evolving foam industry. That is, while foam is still the standard for many comfort, safety, and performance products, Carbon believes its customizable 3D printed lattices will offer new opportunities and benefits in all three areas.

Carbon, known best for its CLIP 3D printing technology, has presented a new lattice solution which is capable of automatically generating lattice structures based on a user’s needs. More specifically, with Carbon’s software, users can simply input the design constraints (such as weight and size) of a part and its desired mechanical response and the program will suggest a lattice structure and material suitable for meeting the particular demands.

As the company explained: “Carbon’s solution is able to remove the guesswork from the design process, leveraging our exhaustive lattice library where each unique combination of lattice parameters is combined with base materials, resulting in a unique metamaterial with a well understood simulated mechanical response.”

The lattice software is also capable of generating parts with a varied lattice structure, meaning that if different densities or mechanical properties are required in a single part, it is possible.

This capability, says the company, could have a game-changing impact on areas that currently rely on foam materials for providing comfort (cushioned chairs or head rests, for example); safety (helmets); and increasing performance (sports equipment or sneakers).

Nine examples of Carbon's lattice structures with tunable load-compression compared to foam's linear load-compression

In the comfort sector, Carbon explains that while foam is broadly used, it poses certain design constraints because of the fact that compression force applied to the material increases linearly. Or, in the case of closed-cell elastomeric foams, which were developed to overcome this challenge, there is no breathability in the material, causing discomfort in other ways.

3D printed lattice structures, however, offer the benefits of breathability (as they are open structures), and can actually improve on comfort through a “tunable load-compression profile.” By varying the lattice composition as well as which metamaterial it is made from, designers can create a broad range of different comfort profiles for different applications.

Carbon says that in the comfort sector, its 3D printed lattices could replace foam in such devices as headsets, seats, headphones, and even orthopedic pads.

The next area ripe for disruption is safety, which currently uses expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam to absorb impact and protect humans in such things as helmets and car seats. Carbon claims that its tunable 3D printed lattices can bring the same (if not better) impact absorption while also offering advantages on the design front.

“Traditionally, safety products require costly assembly of multiple foam parts to create varying functional performance zones within a single product,” says the company. “Using Carbon’s tunable lattice solution, designers can now 3D manufacture a single monolithic part produced from the same material with a design that delivers multiple functional performance zones.”

In addition to providing improved safety features for impact-absorbing parts, Carbon's 3D printed lattices can also be customized, meaning that people such as athletes could be protected with custom-fit helmets or pads, further increasing the equipment’s effectiveness.

Last but not least are performance applications, which might be the most immediately recognizable uses for Carbon’s 3D printed lattice structures. That is, “Performance” includes such things as sports equipment and running shoes and, as we know, Carbon has already partnered with sportswear brand Adidas to bring its innovative 3D printed Futurecraft 4D shoe into mass production.

Carbon says its 3D printed elastomeric lattices could replace ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam which is commonly used for manufacturing sneaker midsoles as it offers the necessary support for wearers.

“Carbon and adidas have pushed the functional performance of footwear to a new level with the launch of Futurecraft 4D,” writes Carbon. “The shoe delivers precisely tuned functional zones within the midsole. The midsoles have different lattice structures in the heel and forefoot, to account for different cushioning needs for these parts of the foot while running.”

Adidas Futurecraft 4D sneaker

Judging by the company’s report on its technology, its 3D printed tunable lattice structures seem like versatile competition for foam materials. The one downside, however, is that its technology is not yet widely available. As the company explains, its lattice manufacturing solution is currently only accessible through collaboration with a Carbon Technical Partner.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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