A mysterious post by Ruud Rouleaux indicates an upcoming project to manufacture footwear midsoles in a continuous fashion.
Rouleaux is well-known as the CEO of colorFabb, one of the most innovative suppliers of 3D printing materials in the world today. He’s also been involved with Blackbelt 3D, an unusual 3D printer capable of continuous operation by means of a conveyor belt.
Rouleaux says in the cryptic post:
“Continuous production of expanded TPU insoles will be a reality in 2020.
Sole by PodoPrinter. Stay tuned”
And there’s an image as well, seen at top.
What is the PodoPrinter?
What to make of all this? Let’s do some searching.
PodoPrinter BV appears to be a Netherlands-based company, like colorFabb and Blackbelt 3D, coincidentally, and was founded only in July of last year. Even more coincidentally, the address for PodoPrinter seems to be the same location as Blackbelt 3D!
There is a website, with a domain registered in March 2019. However, there’s nothing there right now, other than this:
Also coincidentally, the contact email address on this page is for blackbelt3d.com. I’m beginning to think there is a relationship here.
But that’s about it for what you can learn online. This is clearly a stealth operation.
PodoPrinter Image Analysis
From Rouleaux’s post we can examine the image to learn more:
The image appears to be a rendering, not a picture of an actual machine. Thus it would seem PodoPrinter is still under development.
The build chamber is enclosed, suggesting it employs a possibly sophisticated heat management system to increase print quality and reliability.
There are two spools of filament at the bottom of the machine. Based on the likely size of the spools, we can tell the machine is probably between 60-90 cm tall, or in other words, a desktop device.
The spools are held in a sealed chamber as well, suggesting the device may have an integrated filament drying function. This would increase print quality as well.
There are two spools, not just one. There are two possibilities here: first, the second spool could be used for soluble support for handling complex geometries; or the second spool could be for continuous operation: as one spool empties, it could immediately start using the second spool without stopping a job. I’m leaning to the latter option here.
We can’t tell from the image much about the build platform or extrusion system, as they are not visible. However, it is pretty clear this is a filament based device, which aligns with Blackbelt 3D and colorFabb’s operations.
All of these potential features point towards a machine designed for manufacturing and continuous production, so that is in line with Rouleaux’s post.
Based on the machine’s size, it probably does not have a particularly large build volume. It would appear that a print job could handle as few as one and as many as four midsoles at a time. That’s not a lot when you are manufacturing. However, it may be that by deploying arrays of PodoPrinters you could create a significant throughput, particularly if they are operating continuously.
3D printing midsoles does offer the possibility of customizing the shape to match the feet of buyers. It’s not at all clear whether that is the intention of the PodoPrinter project, but it technically could be done.
And that’s about all I can say about this mysterious project based on the extremely limited information published as of today. I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about PodoPrinter as the months of 2020 go by.