A Lattice for Every Occasion: OECHSLER Produces Innovative, First Time Right 3D-Printed Lattices Using Magics

6 min read

A variety of different pieces of furniture with 3D-printed lattice designs

What do human bones and beehives have in common? They use a network of lattices as frameworks.1 Nature has harnessed the power of open cell structures, like lattices, for eons. However, manufacturing such complex geometries can be difficult without the right technology, expertise, and software. Step forth OECHSLER. They’ve built an impressive library of repeatable lattices to suit any design requirement, using their additive manufacturing (AM) know-how, 3D printing design tools, and Materialise Magics. And tapping into Magics, they’re able to do something truly unique — ensure their customers’ AM parts and custom lattices are printed right, the first time, every time.

OECHSLER is renowned for pushing the needle, especially in 3D printing. In just under a decade, they went from regular prototyping in 2010 to mass-producing around 2 million AM pieces per year by the end of 2019. During this period, they’ve ramped up the production and complexity of their products in different industries — ranging from bike helmets and furniture to more complex designs like lattice-inspired cushioned car seats for the automotive sector. 

“’Moving Beyond Innovation’ is our motto — and AM is the perfect technology to rethink existing products and traditional ways of manufacturing, combined with the design freedom provided by lattices,” says Marc Baldauf, Marketing Communications Manager at OECHSLER.

AM lattices: shaping the future of product design

By 2020, OECHSLER’s experience creating products across markets meant they could go beyond producing standard parts for customers. It was the ideal time to produce even more complex designs. 

“That was a pivotal year for us, not just because of COVID-19. We decided that we’ll use AM to not only service our customers’ needs but also drive our own solutions. We boosted our development and process engineering possibilities, expanding our production to include furniture, backpacks, and insoles — inspired by our various lattices,” states Andreas Knöchel, Head of Program Management — Additive Manufacturing Lattice at OECHSLER.

A chair with a 3D-printed lattice design
A close-up of a chair with a 3D-printed lattice design

OECHSLER’s 3D-printed lattice inspired furniture. Credit: OECHSLER

“We evolved from producing predefined parts designed by customers to creating specialized components crafted, tested, and fully validated by us. These parts demonstrated OECHSLER’s capabilities and showcased how our 3D-printed solutions could work for future products.”

I estimate that it [making an adjustment] is around 4x faster when using Magics than having to go back and forth modifying designs directly in the CAD tool.

— Andreas Knöchel, Head of Program Management — Additive Manufacturing Lattice at OECHSLER

Their foray into crafting products for different applications allowed them to acquire expertise in a particular structural design: lattices. “Some customers want to print a piece based on certain criteria, which is fine. But if they don’t have a fully formed idea, we’ll develop a custom design using our algorithm to create a new lattice,” says Andreas. As a result, complex lattice structures and product development became the core competencies of OECHSLER’s AM department, becoming distinct hallmarks of the team. Now, they’re transitioning again, adding technical pieces to their portfolio.

“We like to do things differently at OECHSLER. Everyone else starts with technical components and then they move to the development stage, while we did the exact opposite. We started with complex developments, complex products. Now, we’re adding more regular predeveloped pieces in different shapes and sizes. But our goal is simple: provide our customers with outstanding quality. This applies even if the part is simple; we tailor our design to the customer’s need, and our AM parts are comparable to injection molded pieces,” emphasizes Andreas.

Iterating for success: lattice database and Magics pushes productivity and cuts costs

The team can offer a wide range of services because of the groundwork they did a few years ago. “We created zero function designs, but we also dove into the main purpose and characteristics of every new lattice we generated. We made countless iterations, testing, printing, and measuring many of the designs. So, now we have huge database we can pull from.”

This extensive lattice collection (based on criteria such as strength, stiffness, and porosity, among others) means OECHSLER is able to create cost-effective, versatile patterns quickly and at scale. “Previously, tools weren’t available to suit our requirements, such as altering minute details. So, we built our own algorithm, which we regularly improve with additional features. And Magics is our key tool for processing design-ready pieces suitable for printing using powder bed fusion technology.”

A person cleaning a lattice design during the post-processing stage of production
OECHSLER’s lattice database and 3DP expertise allows them to produce various complex geometries and designs. Credit: OECHSLER

The team uses Magics for three different purposes. The first is for slight design adjustments, making it easier to quickly tweak existing structures. The second is linked to identifying issues that may cause possible build failures by stopping them before they occur, preventing waste and saving money. And finally, the tool efficiently nests parts, optimally distributing components to be printed over OECHSLER’s available machines. This maximizes every machine’s capacity while maintaining excellent part quality.

A man looking at two desktop computer screens using Materialise Magics
OECHSLER uses Magics to tweak existing lattice structures and identify issues that may cause possible build failures. Credit: OECHSLER

“There are millions of surfaces and hundreds of thousands of struts to analyze — so challenges everywhere. Magics finds every problem you can throw at it. Moreover, if Magics can’t repair a support, then basically, the structure is completely destroyed. Apart from optimization and prevention, it’s essential for us in terms of nesting. In fact, that’s our biggest need. These three key functions, packaged in a ready-made bucket of the final build volume, allow us to push designs to our HP Multi Jet Fusion printers in the printshop immediately.”

Our team uses it [Magics] 24/7; if we lost access to it, we wouldn’t be able to validate new lattice designs. Nothing new would leave our powder bed facility.

— Andreas Knöchel, Head of Program Management — Additive Manufacturing Lattice at OECHSLER

Magics was recommended by an experienced powder bed fusion developer when he joined them in 2020, and the team has been impressed with the tool ever since. “We chose it because the need arose at the time, and we wouldn’t go with any other software now. We’re able to reach maximum nesting efficiency with Magics. Plus, we can make small adjustments without going into the CAD software. This saves us an incredible amount of time. I estimate that it’s around 4x faster when using Magics than having to go back and forth modifying designs directly in the CAD tool.”

These qualities allow OECHSLER to save customers time and money, providing quality prints that follow the first time right (FTR) principle, designs that satisfy their customers, and lattices that transform industrial and product design.

A machine sandblasting a 3D-printed lattice structure
An image showing a HP MJF printer

3D printing unique lattice designs using HP MJF printers. Credit: OECHSLER

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: winning two prestigious Red Dot Awards, scaling production, and looking toward the future

The company has tasted success in two consecutive Red Dot Design Awards, wowing 3D printing experts and enthusiasts. OECHSLER won the “Best of the Best” Design Concept category for its trekking backpack with 3D-printed back padding in 2022. 

And the company helped Jack Wolfskin win the “Product Design Award” this year by collaborating with them to produce their new 3D Aerorise backpack. It uses a 3D-printed carrying system that combines durability, lightness, comfort, and ventilation — qualities that particularly impressed the jury. “Our most recent award was for product design. This is noteworthy because it’s a commercial product, showing how our innovative lattices can provide businesses with tangible success stories,” says Marc.

The front of a black Jack Wolfskin backpack
The back of a black Jack Wolfskin backpack with green, 3D-printed lattices

Jack Wolfskin’s Aerorise 40 backpack received the Red Dot Product Design Award for 2023. Credit: OECHSLER

The company has conquered many industries, but the next area they’d like to really scale is the automotive sector. “We see this area as the place to be for innovation. That’s where we want to be,” says Andreas. “However, it takes a lot of convincing to switch to AM. If the problem isn’t big enough, manufacturers will revert to the mean, in this case, traditional manufacturing.” OECHSLER also has the challenge of navigating the car industry’s strict development cycle. 

“You need to be ready at the beginning of the development cycle, and as cars run on a 5 – 6-year window, it doesn’t give you that much opportunity. That’s our challenge, but we know we can achieve this. We have parts that meet the strictest requirements from automotive, like mechanical and chemical specifications, and we run our parts through our own quality-control process. That’s why Magics is crucial for us. We need to produce repeatable products of the highest standards, and that’s only possible with Magics. Our team uses it 24/7; if we lost access to it, we wouldn’t be able to validate new lattice designs. Nothing new would leave our powder bed facility.”

The front of car seat that uses a 3D-printed lattice structure
Side view of a car seat that uses a 3D-printed lattice structure
Close up of a car seat that uses a 3D-printed lattice structure

Lattice-inspired seats tailored-made for automotive applications. Credit: OECHSLER

With such a ringing endorsement, it’s no wonder the entire team is stepping up to Magics 27. “The whole team uses Magics on a daily basis. And we’re currently in the process of upgrading to the latest version. For OECHSLER, AM has brought in an enormous new customer base and allowed us to create even more innovative products. 3D printing is a shining lighthouse for us, so, in a way, Magics is our lighthouse keeper. It’s a core product for us.”

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