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A viable path to consumer customization

OECHSLER is leveraging its established series production capabilities to make cost-efficient product customization possible

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As OECHSLER expands its additive manufacturing services, now operating not only as a series production partner but also offering lot size one capability, consumer goods remain an important focus for the company. As Andreas Knoechel, head of AM at OECHSLER, told us in a recent VoxelMatters podcast episode, this is because the consumer market, and particularly sporting equipment, is a segment that has a great need for customization.

Today, OECHSLER is aiming to meet the diverse needs of the consumer market by continuing to work with customers to develop high-performing products, like protective equipment and midsoles, and bring them into series production. In recent years, this has been the company’s dominant business model in the additive sphere (OECHSLER is also an important manufacturer of injection molded goods). In the past year, however, the company has added another offering to its production services: an online platform that gives customers access to its production capabilities for technical components, test parts and, most relevantly to this article, customized products.

Knoechel illuminated how OECHSLER is achieving customization in a way that is scalable and cost-efficient, drawing attention to two particular use cases. The first, which admittedly straddles the consumer and medical segments, is INSOLO, a customized orthotic insole developed in collaboration with Solo Lattices and Gespodo.

OECHSLER is leveraging its established series production capabilities to make cost-efficient product consumer customization possible.

The workflow established by OECHSLER and its partners consists of capturing a scan of the customer’s foot using Gespodo’s FootSCAN3D app, and then generating a bespoke insole model that integrates Solo Lattices’ unique lattice structures. OECHSLER is then responsible for manufacturing the custom-fit insole using its well-established production chain. The finished insole is then shipped to the orthopedist or the customer. The 3D printed product itself has certain advantages over other insoles, including up to 80% material savings thanks to the hollow lattice structure, and a lighter weight. But perhaps the biggest achievement of the customized 3D printed insole is that OECHSLER has found a way to make customized products in a cost-efficient way.

According to Knoechel, two key factors influence the cost efficiency of customized parts. “The first is that for customized projects—or even projects with smaller lot sizes—we leverage all the series production we are running in parallel,” he says. In other words, OECHSLER’s customers can benefit from the bulk costs the company pays for its materials, shipping, and more. “If a customer wants 10 pairs of insoles,” Knoechel adds, “we don’t order material for only the 10 pairs, instead, small-scale customers can directly leverage our bulk costs.”

The second factor that influences the cost efficiency of printing custom products, such as insoles, is standardizing as many elements of the production cycle as possible. “Even if everything is customized, we are looking into what is not customized,” Knoechel explains. This means that while many elements of the product itself are customized, the process of making it has elements that remain consistent. For example, for insoles, design elements like footbed shape and size will be different, but OECHSLER can standardize other things like the supports, post-processing steps, etc. The question, according to Knoechel is: “How can we really identify some knobs and push buttons to keep a regular production flow even if the part looks a little different.”

OECHSLER is leveraging its established series production capabilities to make cost-efficient product consumer customization possible.

For customized products, another important thing to consider is part sorting. If you are making a batch of 10 pairs of insoles, each customized to a different person, each pair must end up in the right shoes. On this front, OECHSLER has integrated a unique identifier on each 3D printed insole, which is machine-readable. This code can be scanned for quick identification to ensure it’s properly paired and headed to the right customer. This feature also helps to facilitate the production of customized parts without complicating post-production steps.

OECHSLER is also manufacturing customized products through its new online service platform, as demonstrated in the second use case Knoechel mentions. “If you look at the topic of customization, we see that the sporting area and consumer goods as of now have the most need for customization,” he says. “For example, we go into bike saddles which are customized for each rider.”

These 3D printed saddles are not the ones we’ve seen from OECHSLER and Specialized, who have collaborated closely to not only design but also serially produce hundreds of thousands of cutting-edge bike saddles. These custom saddles are made by Czech company Posedla and each product is designed based on the rider’s specific measurements (acquired using the “Smiling Butt Kit” that Posedla sends to its customers). With the measurement and pressure point data, Posedla’s JoyFit algorithm generates a custom saddle design that is adjusted by the team before being sent to OECHSLER, which prints the saddle cushions to order on MJF systems using TPU material.

This use case is a prime example of how OECHSLER’s new online ordering platform for lot size production can be leveraged for customized products. From the client’s perspective, the ordering process consists of registering through the online portal, uploading CAD files, and selecting lot sizes. From there, OECHSLER generates an instant quote for the order and provides detailed order status insights until parts are delivered.

OECHSLER is leveraging its established series production capabilities to make cost-efficient product consumer customization possible.

There are a few benefits to ordering through OECHSLER’s new service beyond the cost-efficiency mentioned earlier. For one, the company offers rapid turnaround times—between three to seven days. The company also plans to expand the range of possible materials for its printing service to include both rigid and soft materials, the latter of which are not widely available through 3D printing services. Finally, regardless of the lot size, OECHSLER can deliver high-quality results by leveraging its tried and true production workflow for series production. As Knoechel said in a webinar: “We are using mass production equipment for very small lot sizes, and so the machine doesn’t care if it’s an insole, or car seat, or one million pairs of shoes: it will produce the quality which we achieved for [series production].”

Despite these advantages, OECHSLER still faces challenges—the same challenges faced across the additive manufacturing industry. Primary among them, Knoechel says, is the acceptance of additive manufacturing in regular industries. “In eight out of 10 discussions with potential customers, we still see that the customer either does not know anything about 3D printing or still thinks it’s just for prototyping,” he says. Awareness of 3D printing’s capabilities and ongoing advancements in terms of technologies and applications are crucial to overcoming this challenge. “It’s getting a little better, but it’s still very slow.”

Ultimately, OECHSLER is not only among the first companies to achieve mass production volumes using additive technologies, but it is also carving out a path for greater customization opportunities for consumer products.

This article was originally published in VoxelMatters’ VM Focus Consumer eBook. Read or download the full eBook for free at this link.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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