What good is a pair of shoes from Seattle Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch if there’s no way to prove their authenticity? That’s why Silicon Valley startup Origin Laboratories is in the business of producing NFC tags that, when scanned with an iPhone or Android app, validate a product as the real deal. Doing so for Lynch’s Beast Mode shoes, however, was no easy task. After all, how can you mass produce a large batch of different, individual items? The answer to most 3DPI readers is obvious: with 3D printing, of course! Embedding NFC tags into a series of 3D prints, however, is easier said than done. To do so, Origin developed a specialized workflow using Autodesk Ember 3D printers for mass producing their custom tags for Lynch’s shoes.
Due to its use of DLP technology, the Ember is already capable of producing high resolution prints (layer thicknesses of 10 microns) at relatively quick speeds (18mm/s, though the Autodesk team can hack it to make it go even faster). This made ideal in terms of throughput and quality, but embedding the RFID tags in each layer requires manual intervention. Fortunately for the Origin team, the Ember is open source, meaning that they could write a print process that brings a bit more automation to this process.
The process, as outlined in the video below, sees the Ember printers first 3D print the initial layers in red resin, before pausing so that the Origin team can place a unique NFC chip within. The printer then resumes the process, 3D printing over the chip and completing the main body of the tag. To add more color to the product, the print procedure pauses once again, allowing the team to switch out the resin. To keep the tags in place during this step, Origin 3D printed a custom mold that maintains them in a precise spot, allowing the Ember to finish the fabrication process the same way every time.
Now, every pair of Beast Mode shoes has a unique pair of NFC tags clipped onto them. On the back of each tag is a unique, 3D printed serial number. And, if that’s not enough proof, a scan from an accompanying Chronicled smartphone app will validate the authenticity of each shoe.