Voxel8 Returns to 3D Print Shoe Uppers
In 2015, a startup called Voxel8 wowed attendees at CES in Las Vegas with a desktop 3D printer capable of 3D printing electronic circuits into thermoplastic parts. The firm demoed its Developer’s Kit system by fabricating a quadcopter live at CES and flying it directly off of the print bed.
Though Voxel8 continued to make announcements, mostly related to the sales of its Developer’s Kit 3D printer, for some time after that, it soon went radio silent. We did catch a brief discussion by the company at AMUG in 2017, but it wasn’t until just this past October that it made its first big announcement in years: Voxel8 has created a system for 3D printing shoe uppers.
To help the company along in its development of a machine capable of 3D printing 350,000 pairs of shoe uppers per year, DSM Venturing, along with the venture arm of HP Inc., have invested in Voxel8. To learn more, we spoke to Voxel8 CEO and co-founder Travis Busbee.
Born out of the multi-material additive manufacturing (AM) research being performed under Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis, Voxel8 spun out of Harvard with the goal of commercializing Lewis’s research. Among the verticals being explored within the lab was 3D electronics printing. To test the commercial possibilities of 3D electronics printing, the startup released the Developer’s Kit, hoping that its customers might find a killer application for the technology.
“We had a ton of inbound interest from major Fortune 500 companies that were interested in exploring aspects of that technology. As a result of that, we anticipated that electronics printing would be where we would find this killer application,” Busbee said.“We built and shipped over 100 of these to many Fortune 500 companies across the world. Ultimately, we meant for it to be a market discovery tool where we would get it into the hands of customers and work with them to figure out what problems they were trying to solve and essentially how we could develop a next generation product that would enable them to solve their real problems in volume production.”
Among the parties that took an interest in the Developer’s Kit was the MITRE Corporation, which manages federally funded research and development centers for such federal agencies as the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. Using Voxel8’s technology, the non-profit developed a low-profile, wideband phased-array antenna for the U.S. military. The benefit of this type of antenna was that it, unlike reflector dishes, does not have to be pointed at a signal to receive it and can capture a broad range of signals without moving.
MITRE team members were able to 3D print a prototype of this complex antenna design to determine that it was feasible. Though Voxel8 has shifted its public focus to consumer goods, MITRE was able to purchase a customized Developer’s Kit system with more capability.