Kornit acquires Voxel8
Kornit Digital, which makes several inkjet textile printers, has acquired 3D printing company Voxel8, which has developed technology for producing parts used in shoes and clothing.
Kobi Mann, Kornit Digital’s chief technology officer, explained: “Voxel8 offers direct 3D print-on-part capabilities, advanced design software that can be easily integrated with any production floor software workflow, and versatile chemistry enabling on-the-fly formulation of high-performance elastomers to change the material properties of the resulting printed structures by multiple orders of magnitude. This means reflective, high-density, silicone and metallics, as well as compression elements for sports and therapeutics, protection elements like cushioning and impact resistance, and functionality applications like anti-slip, waterproofing, and other qualities combining form and function that are key to Kornit’s vision of digitizing production in every conceivable manner.”
The key to all this is Voxel8’s ability to work with a single set of raw materials that are dynamically mixed to create elastomers that offer a wide range of mechanical properties within a single print, from a soft rubber to a rigid plastic.This includes dynamic viscosity tuning that enables the rheological properties to be dialed in for optimal penetration and adhesion to a wide range of textiles and substrates.
At the heart of this is Voxel8’s ActiveMix printhead, which combines the different elements together to change the material properties at the point of printing. It dynamically mixes reactive polyurethane precursors, creating robust elastomers. It can deposit the material either by extruding or spraying, depending on the material properties. It also includes inkjet technology with either extrusion or spray to embed vibrant, high-resolution graphics into high performance elastomers, which Voxel8 calls ActiveImage, and which allows for mass customization possibilities at no added cost.
This process is then used to enhance textile products that are required to withstand thousands of flex cycles or harsh environments, and provide seamless interfaces between zones of radically different properties. Voxel8 has developed its own ActiveLab printer, which is sold as part of a complete turnkey solution, including hardware, software and materials, for printing functional features on textiles
The company can develop custom formulations with quick turn-around times to fulfill special requests, while standard sets are scaled for manufacturing by a major materials partner.
It can be used across a number of applications, such as producing uppers eyelets, heel counters and toe boxes for athletic footwear, or trainers. It can also be used to enhance protective gear and sporting goods, adding a reinforced area, cushioning or to improve grip. It can also create seamless support on sports bras, compression clothing and performance hosiery by controlling stretch through fiber-locking technology and engineered meshes. In addition, it can be used to encapsulate electrical components on any textile for health monitoring. The technology can also be used in industrial applications, such as robotic grippers and precision gaskets requiring non-uniform properties with the ability to operate in extreme conditions.
In June 2021, Hush Puppies chose to use Voxel8 to manufacture midsoles that provide enhanced comfort, support and longevity. Travis Busbee, CTO and co-founder, explained: “Our printed lattice structures with precisely tuned mechanical properties are being used as inserts in midsoles to provide enhanced shock absorption. Moreover, we have measured no change in the shock absorption and four times less thickness change after 100,000 cycles, as compared to traditional foams. Our sustainable and scalable technology transforms how footwear is developed and produced, with shorter design cycle times and no-tooling manufacturing. Our software-driven digital manufacturing opens the door to cost effective, customized designs in the future.”
Another customer, the Italian fashion manufacturer Eddy Ricami, invested in the technology in March this year. Eddy Ricami plans to create high-quality, custom-designed fashion products while eliminating supply chain risks associated with overseas production. In the future, Eddy Ricami customers will be able to realize the potential of personalized designs at virtually no incremental cost. Gianluca Bordoni, CEO and owner of Eddy Ricami, commented at the time: “In our evaluation of 3D printing offerings, we found Voxel8’s technology was uniquely positioned for printing on textiles. This is an example of our continued commitment to implement innovative technical solutions to provide our customers with distinctive products.”
Voxel8, which is based in Sommerville, Massachusetts in the US, was founded in 2014 by a team of scientists and engineers from Harvard University with venture capital backing. The management team are joining Kornit, with CEO Friedrich von Gottberg now becoming vice president of additive manufacturing textiles at Kornit, while CTO Travis Busbee is now the director of additive manufacturing textiles at Kornit.
Ronen Samuel, Kornit Digital Chief Executive Officer. “With this advanced and proven 3D technology, we will disrupt the business of fashion, empowering completely new creative decorative concepts and never-before-seen functional textile applications, while exploring new lucrative opportunities in the functional apparel and footwear markets.”
This is a very positive step forward for both companies. Voxel8’s technology has the potential to take Kornit into several new markets, while Kornit has the market reach to exploit this technology beyond what Voxel8 could do on its own.