Additive Manufacturing News

What is Digital Foam?

Anything traditional foam can do, Digital Foam can do better.

Hexr 3d printed bike helmet

Digital Foam isn’t exactly foam… at least not the foam you’re familiar with

It behaves like foam, and it can be used in many of the same safety, cushioning, and ergonomic applications. However, creating traditional foam is a low-tech procedure: Chemical processes create bubbles in a liquid, which then solidifies.

Digital Foam, on the other hand, is created using 3D printers. It’s a high-tech process that requires a lot of specialized talent and technology. But because Digital Foam is made with a radically different recipe, it can outperform traditional foam in many important applications and in various ways.

For instance, the customizable design traits of Digital Foam introduce new possibilities for personalized products, light-but- strong components, superior protection, and perfect comfort. Anything traditional foam can do, Digital Foam can do better.

So Digital Foam isn’t exactly foam, because it’s much more than that. It’s a 3D printed object that meets precise design and functionality needs. It’s a solution that can take products – and even business models -- to new heights. It’s an entirely new way to think about production and personalization. And because Digital Foam can be delivered as a service, its powers are easily accessible to you.

Digital Foam is a 3D printed object

Examine a piece of Digital Foam, and you’ll see intricate lattice structures instead of a spongy material filled with bubbles. It’s a 3D printed miniature architectural marvel.

Handle a piece of Digital Foam, and you’ll discover different attributes depending on how you’re manipulating it. Bend it one way, and it might be incredibly flexible. Try to bend it another way, and it might be perfectly solid.

With traditional foam, these distinct variations in hardness and flexibility in a single structure are practically impossible. You have control over the shape, thickness, and density of the foam, but not much else – and you can barely vary the shape, thickness, and density within a single component.

What makes Digital Foam so versatile?
A unique combination of design flexibility and selective laser sintering technology.

Let’s start with the design element.
When you design a piece of Digital Foam, you have total control over the attributes and behavior of every single voxel (volume pixel). This enables complete freedom to design product attributes in new ways and even customize products on a one-by-one basis.

Now, let’s talk about the 3D printing process.
These intricate Digital Foam designs are brought to life with selective laser sintering (SLS) technology, an additive manufacturing technique that uses lasers to fuse powdered materials together, layer by layer, with incredible precision. In the realm of consumer products, SLS offers major benefits over traditional manufacturing and other methods of additive manufacturing. For starters, SLS-based production scales more effectively than competing methods, translating to a reduced cost per part in consumer applications.

Compared to other additive manufacturing technologies, SLS also allows for much larger parts to be printed and many smaller parts to be printed at the same time. It’s robust enough to support large items such as furniture and car dashboards. It can also accelerate the manufacturing of smaller items, such as shoe inserts, by producing 100 units simultaneously.

Due to the precise influence you have on Digital Foam’s physical properties and production methods, it represents a new solution across several industries and product categories. Digital Foam can be used to create safer protective headgear due to its ability to reduce impact force, custom footwear that will fit individual feet perfectly, new performance benefits for high-end athletic equipment, and automotive components that deliver great strength and durability at lighter weights.

In the next sections, we’ll explore the ways Digital Foam is already making an impact in many verticals – and perhaps more importantly, how you can explore what Digital Foam can bring to your own products.

EOS Digital Foam

Digital Foam is a solution

In the real world, Digital Foam’s distinct traits have provided important solutions, new capabilities, and measurable performance benefits for many products.

For example, companies have used Digital Foam to fine-tune and customize the response of certain sections of orthotic shoe inserts. They have created intricate gradient responses within a helmet, with stiff outer layers for protection and soft inner layers for comfort. Digital Foam has also been used to elevate the comfort level of practically any product by eliminating hard transitions and seams.

Perhaps more importantly, there are many use cases for Digital Foam yet to be explored or discovered. In other words, the next great application could come from your own organization. However, if designing and creating Digital Foam from scratch were easy, everyone would already be doing it.

In order to develop, create, test, and optimize these complex 3D printed structures, organizations often need to make significant investments in new talent, new technology, and new processes. The associated costs and commitments can be huge barriers to adoption – even for companies that could clearly benefit from Digital Foam applications.

That’s precisely why the EOS Additive Minds applied engineering team offers its end-to-end expertise as a service through the Digital Foam program. We want to make Digital Foam exploration and adoption as easy as possible for anyone.

Digital Foam is a service

To explore the full potential of Digital Foam, you’ll need much more than a machine. In short, you’ll need an entirely new way to think about creating your products.

Success requires a new production strategy, new ways of recruiting and training talent, new design and personalization techniques, new processes for optimizing and handling materials, and new hardware and methods for production and post-production.

Additive Minds

The EOS Additive Minds applied engineering team has created the Digital Foam program to get you from start to part more quickly, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively. The Digital Foam program makes it easier to get started, easier to bring innovative products to market, and easier to scale rapidly.

Our program is designed to help companies dramatically improve their development and production speeds, enhance product performance, and lower the cost of entry for 3D printed foam applications. By offering Digital Foam as a service, EOS Additive Minds aims to educate, inspire, and enable more companies to explore major improvements to their products and processes.

Our experience can elevate your opportunities. Your journey to success starts with a simple first step.

How to begin your Digital Foam journey

The list of potential applications for Digital Foam is still developing in real-time. In fact, Digital Foam is often a “surprise answer” to a long-standing problem: Product designers and manufacturers may know that they need a specific solution to a specific challenge, but they may not know that additive manufacturing is the best path to that solution.

In order to determine whether Digital Foam – or any other additive manufacturing application – may provide a solution, a good starting point is to “forget what you know.” Simply by considering what’s possible and not possible in your existing manufacturing processes, you may be limiting your exploration of newer and better solutions.

Instead, approach the challenge by contemplating what the ideal solution needs to be. That process begins with asking a few fundamental questions:

  • What are the key requirements for the end product?
  • What is the design space?
  • What are the specific goals you are trying to accomplish?
  • How will you test and measure the end product?

In your answers to those questions, there will be consistent indicators that Digital Foam might be a fit. Across a multitude of industries – automotive to footwear to athletics to safety to medical – there are common themes and requirements that point toward Digital Foam as a solution.

The most common Digital Foam applications (so far)

EOS 3D printed Shinguards

Personalization
Like any object created via additive manufacturing, Digital Foam offers unprecedented opportunities for customization at the product level. Through scanning technology and software experiences, customers can tailor 3D printed objects to their exact specifications and needs. These unprecedented personalization opportunities influence additional benefits, such as comfort, support, and safety.

3D printed Aetrex orthotic

Superior comfort and support
The personalization benefits of Digital Foam also allow individuals to create products custom-fitted for their own comfort and needs. In collaboration with the EOS Additive Minds applied engineering team, footwear company Aetrex launched a service that allows customers to create customized Digital Foam shoe insoles based on a 3D scan of their feet. It brings the ground up to the foot and provides a superior product experience.

Hexr 3d printed bike helmet exploded view

Safety
Custom-fit apparel created from 3D scans can also introduce major safety benefits. One example involves the world of bike helmets: Gaps between the helmet insert and the cyclist’s head can reduce energy absorption and safety upon impact. Bike-helmet company Hexr worked with the EOS Additive Minds team to develop “exact fit” 3D printed helmets for the company’s customers. The complex hexagons of the Digital Foam insert absorb forces more effectively than traditional foam, reducing the risk of head and brain injury.

Sustainability
In addition to introducing new design and production capabilities, Digital Foam offers sustainability and waste reduction benefits at every stage of the manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing generates little to no waste during the production process, recyclable polymers can be used as printing materials, and improved strength-to-weight ratios minimize material volume and energy consumption. In terms of environmental impact, additive manufacturing is responsible manufacturing.

Are you ready to get started?

At EOS, we know additive manufacturing is sophisticated. But based on our more than 30 years of experience, we also know that success in additive manufacturing is achievable and worth the effort.

We take pride in being a trusted advisor that can explore your complex needs, define what you’ll need to get started, and provide end-to-end solutions that enable your success. Nothing is more important to us than your success at every step of your additive manufacturing journey.

EOS is your ideal partner, your biggest enabler, and a catalyst that will help you drive innovation and additive manufacturing inside your organization. So, are you ready to begin your journey?

Contact your nearest John Hart branch, and let’s see what we can create together.