3D Printer Goes into Beast Mode
Roopinder Tara posted on March 17, 2016 | | 8068 views

Origin goes into beast mode witha tagthat authenticates a line of shoes inspired by Seattle Seahawks star running back, Marshawn Lynch. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Origin goes into beast mode with a tag that authenticates a line of shoes inspired by Seattle Seahawks star running back, Marshawn Lynch. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Origin Laboratories promised to go into beast mode. They sold the idea that they could guarantee the authenticity of a line of Beast Mode footwear with an electronic tag, but now they had to produce it.The cool shoes, inspired by Seattle Seahawks star running back, Marshawn Lynch (a.k.a. Beast Mode), were created by footwear company, Greats.  

Contemplating his meager options from a small, already expensive office space near downtown San Francisco, Chris Prucha, CEO and co-founder of Origin, may have been having visions of getting stomped by Lynch going beast mode on his head after failing to deliver.

A small office near downtown San Francisco is not the place to set up an injection molding facility. Prucha’s go-to production service, Proto Labs, left a lot to be desired in terms of finish quality. To get the quality he needed in an industrial 3D printer, it would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000, and still would require an assembly area.

But didn’t Autodesk, right down the street, come up with Ember, a relatively low-cost industrial 3D printer? Was it industrial grade? The software that ran the $7,500 Ember was open source. Maybe it could be programmed for operations that could automate assembly steps.


Origin installed a bank of Embers that now produces all of Origin’s authentication tags.(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
Origin installed a bank of Embers that now produces all of Origin’s authentication tags.(Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

As luck or fate would have it, the Ember would prove to be an ideal machine for Origin to produce a series of customized near field communication (NFC) tags for each pair of shoes in a largely automated assembly-line fashion. The strengths of the Ember in this process were two-fold: the speed and resolution of the system’s digital light processing-stereolithography (DLP SLA) process and the open-source nature of its design. Autodesk’s desktop 3D printer is capable of achieving layer thicknesses of just 10 microns and a resolution of 50 microns on the X- and Y-axes. This can be performed at speeds of roughly 18 mm/hour, allowing the Origin team to produce near-injection mold quality at a high throughput.


An RFID chip is inserted into the tag partway through the print task. (Image courtesy of Autodesk/YouTube.)
An RFID chip is inserted into the tag partway through the print task. (Image courtesy of Autodesk/YouTube.)

More importantly, everything about the Ember is open source, from its software to the design of the machine itself, all of the way down to the formulations of its resins.This gave the Origin team the ability to customize the 3D printer to their needs, resulting in a workflow that would allow for the series production of their custom NFC tags.To do so, Origin created a custom 3D printing procedure that saw the Ember pause during the fabrication process.After 3D printing the initial layers of the tags, the printer would stop so that the radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips could be inserted into the prints.The print would then continue, sealing the chip inside.

With the Ember’s open-resin recipes, Origin was also able to experiment with the specific materials with which they were printing. In this case, the team switched colors midway through fabricating each tag so that the initial layers were printed in red and the final layers were printed in white. The print bed, raised out of the resin vat, would need to be removed throughout their workflow. So, to ensure continuity during this process, Origin 3D printed a custom mold, mounted to the print bed, to hold the tags in an exact location while the resin was switched out.


A 3D-printed custom mold used to maintain the proper location of the tag while materials are changed. (Image courtesy of Autodesk/Origin.)
A 3D-printed custom mold used to maintain the proper location of the tag while materials are changed. (Image courtesy of Autodesk/Origin.)

Finally, each NFC tag has its own serial number to correspond with a blockchain algorithm stored within the tag, yielding the authenticity that Origin and Marshawn Lynch were after in the first place. Using the Chronicled app on your iPhone or Android, you can scan the 3D-printed tag attached to each pair of shoes and be able to verify that they’re the real deal.


The end result—the round RFID chips authenticate the Marshawn Lynch-inspired shoes. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
The end result—the round RFID chips authenticate the Marshawn Lynch-inspired shoes. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Altogether, the Origin team established an affordable, high-throughput workflow, due in no small part to Ember 3D printing technology. The price of each finished tag was a mere $2.76, with a failure rate of just one in 600 parts—a far cry from Autodesk’s condemnation of 3D printing with its overall failure rate as high as 75 percent .

The open-source design of the system also allowed Origin to make this process almost entirely automated, demonstrating the possibility such a printer has for end-part production.Not only will CEO Chris Prucha no longer have to worry about a 215-lb football player going beast mode on his head, but now Origin has a powerful new tool with which to create an entire range of products for the Internet of Things.