AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

Osprey Features Carbon’s 3D Printed Parts in New Backpack Line

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I love Osprey as a brand. I have a backpack and a few packing cubes that are supremely well-engineered. Osprey backpacks are very high quality items and can last for a long time. Furthermore, they’re made with travelers in mind so there are all sorts of handy features and additions. At one point, I travelled non-stop for a few years, so I’m very very into backpacks. I’ve also long seen sporting goods as a huge potential area for 3D printing innovation. So, I was very happy to learn that Osprey is using 3D printing for some innovative components on a new backpack series.

Image courtesy of Osprey and Carbon.

For two years, Osprey founder Mike Pfotenhauer has been working on the UNLTD series of backpacks. These packs feature cutting-edge materials and processes to represent the far-limit of innovation in backpacks. One feature of these packs is Osprey UNLTD’s 3D Printed Fitscape Lumbar, which supports the wearer’s lower back. This part is 3D printed with Carbon’s digital light synthesis (DLS) technology and offers an anti slip grip, tuned cushion support, and better ventilation. The company also touts the use of less material in production, resulting in less waste.

“Traditional manufacturing methods teach us that in order to push the boundaries of innovation, product development timelines need to be extended. The development of Osprey UNLTD proved the exact opposite. The entire process using Carbon DLS took about one year with only six months for us to iterate on the design, enabling Osprey to take this innovative product to market faster,” said Carbon co-founder Phil DeSimone, Carbon´s co-founder.

“Osprey UNLTD is the manifestation of Osprey’s approach to innovation. In developing Osprey UNLTD, we removed the shackles of commercialisation and production schedules to move beyond traditional manufacturing technologies ushering in a new era of backpack design and the ultimate backpacking experience,” contributed Rob BonDurant, vice president of Marketing for Osprey Packs.

UNLTD packs rely on UHMWPE materials, have a rip-top nylon rainier and a special airport cover that comes out when you need to check in the bag. There will be four UNLTD packs total in the series, two for men and two for women and AirScape 68 and Anti-Gravity 64 sizes.

The news comes after the recent release of the Carbon M3 3D printer. It’s quite an achievement for the AM company in getting 3D printed parts into more consumer goods, which previously included a number of Adidas products. I love using Carbon for the lumbar support element here. I adore the use of texture for anti-slip, something I recently mentioned in a presentation as a good possibility. I also like that Carbon can make a shape with different zones for different actions and levels of support. The added advantage of weight and ventilation should also be of value to the user. This is a project that really showcases what 3D printing can do.

The limited introduction of 3D printing on a single part in a new line of packs is a great way to oversee the direct implementation of AM within a business. It’s limited to few parts, which are controlled along with their release. This makes it easier to implement the produce in a manufacturing operation.

This is a great product with a lovely implementation; however, I wonder if the 3D printed component could stand up to the wear-and-tear of normal use as well as intended. Shear stresses on the thin lattices and the hard use people give these things may very well be a little too much for a Carbon component.

At the same time, I would council against implementing this material for a backpack company. These firms are usually close to nature, as are their users. In such green-credential-prone areas, sustainability pays. Indeed Osprey says:

“From raw materials and chemistry benchmarks to progressive factory code of conduct agreements and programs that extend a product’s end of life, Osprey is looking at every aspect of their business to ensure they leave as little trace possible. Osprey is dedicated to creating innovative, high performance, sustainable gear that reflects the brand’s love of adventure, devotion to the outdoors and steadfast resolve to leave the world better than they found it.”

With that in mind, I could not recommend the use of a thermoset component which cannot be recycled in any meaningful way. I fail to see how a Carbon component could have a good end of life, given that it is a photopolymer with a lot of exotic chemicals in it that can only be disposed of and not recycled. Indeed, some countries would require these materials to be collected at specialized sites. For Carbon’s EPX-82 epoxy material, the material science data sheet (MSDS) notes:

¨Collect and reclaim or dispose in sealed containers at licensed waste disposal site. Do not allow this material to drain into sewers/water supplies. Do not contaminate ponds, waterways or ditches with chemical or used container. Dispose of contents/container in accordance with local/regional/national/international regulations.¨

We can see from the Carbon MSDS that some of its materials are ¨[s]uspected of damaging the unborn child¨ and ¨suspected of damaging fertility.¨ They are also ¨[t]oxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.¨ To me poisoning fish and children does not ¨leave as little trace possible.¨ I think you could make a backpack lumbar out of something that isn’t a ¨Hazardous Chemical,” as defined by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200.

If Carbon stuck to thermoforming inserts or industrial products, I wouldn’t make a peep. However, using its photopolymer materials that can be dangerous and not recycled for a backpack component? Surely, we can do better for the Earth here as an industry.

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