Project 3 – Vaesko

At the Mind the Step exhibition during the 2018 Dutch Design Week, we got to show and present our version of a 3D printer for Rapid Liquid Printing, and a concept for dynamic shoes that could be made using this printing technology in the future.

Concept shoes

We explored a new way to fabricate hybrid shoes that can be, at least partially, built with rapid prototyping technologies. We used a combination of 3D printed silicone, fabric and molded shoe soles to create the shoes of the future.

We designed a shoe that incorporates pneumatic cavities (air pockets) that allow fluids (air or colored liquid) to flow when one steps into them. A pump in the sole of the shoe displaces the fluid into the upper cavity. These cavities were made by using baking paper between two layers of cured silicone, allowing us to incorporate any pattern or design we desire. In order to have the air pump sole and air pockets in the shoe upper as optimally manufactured as possible, we envision Rapid Liquid Printing will be an ideal method to 3D print these shoe uppers.

Dynamic shoe prototypes

Rapid Liquid Printing

Rapid Liquid Printing, RLP for short, is a 3D printing technology developed by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab (Hajash, Sparrman, Guberan, Laucks, & Tibbits, 2017). This method of printing works by extruding a viscous material, a two-component silicone in our case, into a bath of hydrogel. The gel acts as a suspension material for the printed liquid and holds it in place. This effectively eliminates gravity and allows for a much more free and open type of printing as no support structures are needed. After the printed material is cured, it can be taken out of the gel. The gel can be reused multiple times.Since RLP is a rather new technology, there were no commercially available machines available for this type of 3D printing. That is why we decided to build our own printer for RLP.

Printer at Dutch Design Week 2018

Nozzle design & material extrusion

As a material for printing, we chose a two-component silicone with a 1:1 mixing ratio. This gave us two options: Mix the silicone prior to printing or mix the material in the printer. We decided to go for the second option as this would allow for longer print times and less waste.
We designed a 3D printable nozzle with a static mixing section that would mix the materials just prior to extrusion. After several iterations of the design, we had a nozzle that could reliably mix the two components and extrude it into the gel. The final nozzle can be seen in the image below.

Dutch Design Week 2018

During the 2018 edition of the Dutch Design Week, we got to show the printer and the concept shoes at the Mind the Step exhibition. The setup included the printer and two actuated shoe prototypes.  Together with Vimukthi Gunatilleke, one of the other members of the group, I gave a Mind the Story presentation about the development of our RLP 3D printer and its benefits.

Printer at Dutch Design Week 2018

Project done together with: Vimukthi Gunatilleke, Veerle Tijgler, and Naomi Swagten.

Project reflection

During the past half a year we have researched dynamic shoes in combination with Rapid Liquid Printing [RLP]. My focus has mostly been on building the printer and developing a number of custom nozzles. The two topics in our research divided the group in two and during the course of the project, we struggled to bring both topics together. In the end, we did manage to create a single outcome that incorporates both the dynamic explorations and the printer. During the project, we got a lot of expert feedback from both Troy Nachtigall and Mark Thielen. Their feedback contributed greatly to the success of the project.

Building the printer

At the beginning of the project, we decided to build a 3D printer for Rapid Liquid Printing. MIT published a paper about the technology in 2017, detailing the most important aspects of the technology. I initially thought that we could have a basic working printer by the end of the third quartile, could I have been wrong more…
Because I knew the most about 3D printing and had experience tinkering with them, the responsibility of building the printer naturally came down on me. I was very excited to work on this new technology so I did not mind this responsibility.
My passion for the printer was both a blessing and a curse. I decided that the printer was going to become a reality even though this might not have been sensible. I did not mind spending most of my days in the Wearable Senses Lab working on the printer, trying to get it working one small step at a time. By the end of the third quartile, the printer was nowhere near finished. It would have been reasonable to decide to stop the effort and focus on the other part of the project. I, however, wanted to see it through and stopping never crossed my mind. This meant more long days in the lab.
Two weeks before Demo Day we did the first successful test print, all the hard work had paid off! During Demo Day we gave a very successful demo, where we made the best print till that point, my day could not have been better.
In hindsight, building the printer was too great of a challenge. If we had decided not to build it and only focus on dynamic shoes I think we could have gotten a lot further and had a better group dynamic at the same time. I would, however, make the same decision if I have to do it again. The process of building the printer has taught me a lot and as turns out, provides great opportunities for the future.

Dynamic explorations

My focus on the printer caused me to pay less attention to the rest of the project, that made for a division in the group. Near the end of the project, I got more involved in the dynamic explorations and helped to make the final shoe prototypes. For a next project, I would make sure that I would stay more involved in the rest of the project, I would also keep the group more involved in what I was doing. This would have made for a better group dynamic and for an even better result of the project.

Group dynamic

During the entire project, we have struggled to work together as a group. In part, this was because of the two topics we were working on. Two people worked on the dynamics of the shoes and two worked on the printer. We had this division for the entire first semester. It was only near the end of the project that we really started working together, this is also when we started to make big steps.
Another reason for the division in the group was the difference in work ethics. Some of the group was more result driven and did everything in their power to get to the desired outcome. Even if this meant spending long hours on the project and prioritizing it over other work and activities.
This did not match with the hourly based way of working of the other group members and that caused some unrest within the group. We should have made clearer goals and deadlines for parts of the projects so everyone was up to date on how everything was going and what needed to be done.

Expert feedback

During the whole duration, we got feedback from a number of experts. We spoke to Troy and Mark on a regular basis and they provided us with great feedback, suggestions, and parts for the prototypes. I personally wished I had talked to Mark sooner as his feedback caused for big leaps in the development of the printer. One of my co-workers at MakerPoint helped out early on in the project with an extruder that did not work the way we wanted.
Having someone to talk to on a regular basis to give you feedback and to spar with about how things are going is very valuable and it is something I will do more in the future. Consulting experts early on in the process helps making decisions and makes the project move along faster.

Project management

Before this project, I had never done a project where I really had to plan out everything myself and decide what steps to take. This made me a bit nervous for my internship where I likely have to decide my actions with little help. Developing the printer gave me the confidence that I can plan my own projects and make them progress in the right direction. This is a skill that I think is very valuable during my internship and for future projects.

What the future may bring

I am very passionate about the printer that we build and I am looking into ways to continue the project. Vim and I are thinking about doing collaborative Final Batchelor Projects where he continues with the dynamic shoes and I continue developing the printer. I am also in contact with Ultimaker to see if there are possibilities to develop the printer together with them. In general, I am very happy with the result of the project. In the end, we managed to “make it work” and both parts came together nicely in the final shoe prototype. I am curious to see what the future brings.

Reference

Hajash, K., Sparrman, B., Guberan, C., Laucks, J., & Tibbits, S. (2017). Large-Scale Rapid Liquid Printing. 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, 4(3), 123–132. https://doi.org/10.1089/3dp.2017.0037