RAPID 2019: BASF, Origin and ECCO Partner to Produce Footwear

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BASF has quietly hinted for a while that they are working on various flexible materials such as silicones to produce things such as insoles, medical equipment and perhaps even shoes. Now they’ve partnered with Origin and ECCO to do just this. Furthermore BASF has validated its photopolymer materials for the Origin platform.

ECCO is a Danish footwear company that makes very comfortable shoes for everyday wear, think soft-soled shoes for work. Origin is a company that has previously already partnered with BASF on its programmable resin printing technology. We interviewed their CEO about their technology here. Origin has also recently signed up BASF competitor DSM to their materials platform. Meanwhile BASF has also partnered with materials and technology company Essentium. ECCO’s own internal design lab is using DOW silicone materials with German RepRap printers and Viscotec’s two component print heads to produce its silicone 3D printed shoe, the QUANT U. Over the past two years we’ve seen a lot of partnerships between a lot of firms. In this case, things seem to be coming to a head with multiple competitors partnering with multiple materials suppliers over the same end solution. Funnily enough for such an inspiring technology with such a broad spectrum of applications people are all hunting high volume use cases. This can lead to such “overpartnering” as everyone is chasing the next million part seller in 3D Printing.

The Viscotec solution seems to be high caliber and high-quality way to get silicone prints but I’ve always been skeptical if the German RepRap machines could be capable of producing millions of shoes. Now BASF and Origin present another way. Origin’s technology and the whole idea of polymerization that would can be programmed are very interesting. Origin’s open platform approach also seems like its the right way to engage the industry. BASF’s entry into the photopolymer market with its Ultracur3D photopolymer materials is also a bit of a shakeup vis a vis DSM, 3D Systems and Arkema’s Sartomer. That together with Henkel’s market entry will ensure that we get a lot of innovation at the photopolymer front. That the Origin BASF team is focused on mass production is also laudable. Meanwhile, BASF mentions that it is not only focused on Origin but will also make resins for LCD, DLP and SLA equipment. 

Arnaud Guedou, Business Director Photopolymer Solutions, BASF 3DPS says, 

“Origin’s newly developed printing system is optimally tuned for our innovative Ultracur3D photopolymer series. This enables end-users to achieve high processing speeds and a superb surface finish that reliably reproduces even the finest textures and ensures outstanding mechanical stability. We have worked shoulder to shoulder with our customers and know that we need to provide market-beating customized solutions in terms of surface finish, mechanical properties, price-per-part produced, and productivity. The combination of Origin’s technology with BASF’s materials is extremely promising, as the initial results and first functional prototypes of the collaboration clearly illustrate.”

The company says that, 

“the suite of Ultracur3D products features excellent strength and impact resistance, high elasticity and impressive long-term UV stability. It is suitable for the production of prototypes as well as for mass production in practically all major industries.”

Oleksandra Korotchuk, Business Development Manager, BASF 3DPS states  “With their (Origin’s) printing processes they are able to achieve consistent Class A surface finishes and exceptional resolution, while our materials contribute to ensuring long-term functional usage.”

Charlie Vestner, Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing, Origin:

“Not only did we work closely with BASF to develop new materials, but also the 3D printing processes for each of them. In close consultation together we determined how we can achieve specific high-quality resolutions and process control that suit our customers and their applications perfectly. We offer customers unrivalled control over the printing process – not just in designing their product, but also in the sheer scope of design options it offers, meaning it can be tailored precisely to each specific application.”

These are some very bold claims by the team. So 3D Systems has been working on resins for a few decades as has DSM and only now can we get end-use parts through BASF’s materials? All of the problems with limited heat deflection, wear, brittleness have been solved? I’d love to be optimistic but I’ll have to see long term testing results of this in order to believe that long bugbears of 3D printing with resins have been solved so suddenly. At the same time, I’m also skeptical of using a material with limited recyclability in an end-use consumer application. 

I really believe that this kind of partnership is key to getting settings, procedures, and automation right so that we can make millions of consumer items. Any combination of a large polymer company, OEM and end-user to make end-use products is bound to get me very excited. Firms the size of BASF can grind away at a problem with a lot of candle power and a lot of resources until it is solved as well. In this case, I do feel like the claims made feel very ambitious indeed, however. You can ask the BASF and Origin guys yourself at Booth 2153. 

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