MarkForged’s 3D Printed Insoles with Embedded Electronics

3DPrintingIndustry.com – by DAVIDE SHER on 2015-02-26 Thursday, February 26, 2015

What only a few months ago was just a wonderful yet unattainable dream is real: it is now possible to 3D print with embedded electronics and there are already a few ways to go about it. MarkForged, the company that aeronautics and astronautics engineer Greg Mark built around his MarkOne composites 3D printer, does so by directly embedding functional electronics and metal structures inside its continuous composite 3D printed parts.

This new feature, which was presented – along with the Eiger cloud software to control it – during January’s CES in Las Vegas, was once again highlighted when MarkForged participated and presented at an event on wearable technology organised by Additive Fashion‘s Paulina Perepelkin. As the company demonstrated its embedded sensor capabilities, another more practical aspect emerged, as Lead Software Engineer for MarkForged, David Benhaim,  shared a story about his friend Nick, who suffered from flat feet, a condition that restrains many people from practicing several sports and activities.

MarkForged-Embedded-Wearable-Composite05One solution to the problem involved using a MarkOne to print customized insoles, with reinforced fibers and embedded sensors in order to measure Nick’s movements and obtain useful data to manufacture a new set of orthotics. Shortly after he began using the new insoles, not only did Nick stop experiencing pain while walking long distances, but he was also able to participate in sports, showing impressive results.

The Mark One prints outer contours and curves in nylon and fills each part with reinforcement through continuous carbon fiber, Kevlar, or fiberglass. The printer actively switches between two nozzles during a print, creating fiber-reinforced plastic parts with a strength-to-weight ratio better than aluminum. The user simply pauses the print, removes the bed, adds components (in this case, the electronics), inserts the bed, and continues the print from where it left off. This process – called CFF (composite filament fabrication) – makes it possible to build fully functional parts including embedded electronics, sensors, RFID modules, ball bearings, and more.

MarkForged-Embedded-Wearable-Composite04

Traditional methods for making custom insoles use wet plaster that is wrapped around the feet, resulting in a negative cast which is sent to a lab, which then creates a positive cast. Under extreme heat the cast is pressed against a sheet of graphite or a plastic like material. “We decided to make an experiment and take orthotics to the next level. We took a 3D scan and 3D printed an insert for a shoe in nylon. A few hours later, we had a stiff insole,” MarkForged’s Veronika Tyukova tells me.

Responsible for indirect sales, she follows many aspects related to marketing and sales at MarkForged and she is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “Imagine if you could have shoes that perfectly fit you and charge your phone while you are walking. Or if you could print a set of customized soles for children who have flat feet, similar to what Invisalign is doing with customized aligners to straiten teeth. The possibilities are endless. 3D printing allows innovation and never-before-possible applications.”

MarkForged Embedded Wearable Composite09For this insole project, the MarkForged team decided to reinforce the insoles with fiber, so they took the 3D scanned model into the company’s proprietary Eiger software, which simplifies the process of adding composites into a 3D printed object. “Most 3D printers print the form of an object. What we do is we print both form and function,” says Benhaim. “We built software specifically for that reason: Eiger Software lays carbon layers automatically to give your part the functionality you need. Then, we use MarkOne 3D printer’s CFF technology to layout Kevlar, Carbon Fiber, or Fiber Glass.”

Ever since it was first presented, the MarkOne has raised a few eyebrows, not just in the Maker sector, but also in the industrial world, for its unique ability to build parts using a mixture of FFF and composite materials in a single process. Now, MarkForged is also venturing into embedded electronics. And it is still just a start-up taking its first steps into the manufacturing world. Its future is shaping up to be even more amazing than previously anticipated.

Link to article at 3dprintingindustry.com

Product information on the MarkForged Mark One 3D Printer

MarkForged MarkOne 3D printer available from Rapid Direction by calling 855-433-4307. Click here for more product information.