Our Progress So Far
Spring has sprung, and we at Voxelboards have been EXTREMELY busy lately! We’ve been working on design updates, orders, and of course The September Project. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from curious skaters wondering about how far along we are, what we’ve learned, and when you might see a completed set directly from my visions. While initially I wanted to wait until we were further along, recent events have made me slow down on wheel development just a bit to ensure a smooth process. Below, is a checklist of milestones, and while a bit generalized, I’ll be taking some time to elaborate.
|Wheel Core Prototypes
|Concept Prototype (3D Printed Core)
|Finalized Core Design(s)
|Functional Set (Poured Urethane + “True” Cores)
|Public Prototype (Bulk Discounts)
Wheel Core Prototypes
Our first Milestone came with our first successful 3D printed wheel core. This took a bit to achieve – The lightly used 3D printer was a lucky purchase, and thanks to the technology being more accessible, I was able to use as little as a $50 amazon gift card to replace/upgrade a couple parts immediately after purchase to get it up and running. However, the 3D printer isn’t a silver bullet to our goal. While we could not have gotten so far so quickly without it, it only serves as a stepping stone into our project. Although the 3D printer allows me to take our core design directly from CAD to reality with precision and reliability even prototypes require lots of consideration for materials and print settings. That being said, there have been quite a few changes to our original design, and an increased understanding of the limitations and potential viability of 3D printed wheel cores. At this point, one might ask….do 3D printed wheel cores work? Perhaps, with the right material (such as a carbon fiber nylon), an accurate printer, and a good design. Would it be worth it to manufacture wheel cores on the 3D printer? I would argue that there are much faster, and consistent ways to make a skateboard wheel. 3D printing doesn’t really scale in a manufacturing sense. Printing more cores on your print bed doesn’t decrease the time it takes to make them, it just makes a bunch of them all at once. Is there some sort of inherit benefit to make wheel cores on a 3D printer, such as material or additional features that would not exist otherwise? There’s a lot of questions to answer here, and we might not be the ones to answer them all. If you don’t have the traditional equipment, this is honestly a very good way to test out your ideas, and get your “wheel rolling” so to speak.
Concept Prototype and Changes in Design
We started this project with a half spool of red ABS filament, and quickly switched to a stronger, less brittle PLA. Affordable and more biodegradable than other plastics, our numerous prototypes have a minimized impact on our environment, while providing a perfect research material. As I am sure you have guessed from our featured image, we have managed to pour out a single wheel to test our methods, and just to see if a 3D printed core would hold up. Pictured below, is our test wheel pour sitting next to a Blood Orange Alpine for a close refrence. This should be seen as a sort of proof of concept rather than a functional prototype since, well, there’s only one. But hey – bearings fit and it spins. We’ve also done some pretty primitive tests on it, trying to crack the core within. The 80A urethane layer around it definitely contributes to the strength of the whole wheel, because we couldn’t outright crush it, and it exhibits a pretty high impact strength. We can print with exotic filaments, so we’ll do some tests with 3D printed cores in the future. The prototype core within this wheel could not be removed, indicating the strength of our mechanical lock and a potential molecular bond within. The core used was the 12th iteration, which only had one 90° angle adjusted to be sloped on the center support ring. Additionally, the 12th core iteration also pictured below, had a slightly different inner slope, and a relatively thin edge.
Pictured below, is a side by side of our original prototype in red on the left, and our 14th iteration in blue on the right. Originally, our center support ring was designed with 90° angles. This is wrong for a few reasons, and even our 3D printer knew, sloping the underside of the support ring as it tried to lay material with nothing underneath to support it. We adjusted this, and the other support rings, also reinforcing the inward slope towards the bearing. While we got a lot of messages of support, we didn’t receive as much design feedback as we were hoping for. However, there were enough people who thought we would benefit from a beefier core, and we concurred!
Finally, we arrive at our current design iteration, #16. Our cores now feature a lip around the edges of the inner slopes, which should help to add even more strength and support to the lips of the wheel.
The Last Hurdles
First, I’m inspired to write a brief note about some conversations I had after I announced this project.
Things break. Humans miscalculate. Stuff can be expensive. None of these things should be a deterrent from your goals, and we will not let them be a deterrent to ours. We learn from our mistakes, we work hard to refine our designs, and we fix what we break, and make what we can’t afford. Our R&D budget for this is only as deep as our pockets, but that doesn’t mean our aspirations will never get off the ground, or will always be steered off path. Competition is an inevitable part of business, and while there are some who may see our attempts to manufacture in our home country as a naivety, they are missing the larger picture of a growing Voxelboards ecosystem. Criticism for our self imposed locality and dedication to handmade craftsmanship seems far too high in a world where automation is quickly becoming the norm. There are some things that humans will always do better. Passion, altruism, and a sense of community will always be on that list. We will never automate a job that is simply done better by a human.
When are you going to pour the first set?
We already have all the material we need to do this. It’s simply a matter of time and collective design satisfaction.
What are your current costs like?
We estimate it costs roughly $32 to create a single set of wheels. Which is actually pretty close to our goal considering this was no where near a bulk sized purchase, we paid taxes, and even paid for out of state shipping multiple times. In the future, urethane will be sourced locally, in bulk, with potential discounts. Our costs will be further offset by a specialized but familiar bespoke manufacturing process that will decrease overhead.
What about the race wheel you have mentioned to some?
We intend on taking what we learned to develop a race wheel and core. I’m not sure when exactly this will happen, but we do have the materials to at least make a functioning set.
Cores that were not 3D printed. Cores that are made from our production materials.
Is your intended price point still $25/set?
Yes, our intended price point is still $25/set. I’m not sure when we will get to this point, but this is very much still possible. There will be continuous updates about this as we progress.
Will we see these in shops?
We will definitely approach retailers once we are confident with our manufacturing and quality control processes.
When will public prototypes be available and for how long?
The goal is to have public prototypes in time for the summer! They’ll probably be available a couple months into the summer, but this is largely dependent on our progress, and community feedback. Once we feel they are complete products, or that we have learned enough about them or made all the last tweaks, then we will finalize them.
Our current goal for reducing price point is to purchase in bulk. This is largely where the community comes in, creating enough demand for the product.
What about your Open Source version?
An open source version of my core should be available before public prototypes become available!
Will your final product look like what you have currently?
There will be some visual aspects changed when we finalize our product. I’ve dropped little hints within every product picture about what my ideas are and what I have planned, but I honestly think that the first functional set will be everyone’s first clear look.
What makes your product different?
Once complete we will offer a high performance, and affordable wheel manufactured and prototyped in-house, right here in California. By introducing an open sourced wheel core, we are able to keep the design healthy, allowing the core to improve with the skate community, whether or not a company is behind it. This also helps get people thinking about ways to improve wheels in general, by making the right information more accessible to everyone.
What do you need to keep things running smoothly?
You can follow our instagram pages and support us there. We post more frequent updates, and use the platform as one of our main community outreach tools! If you’re looking to make sure we don’t run into hangups in our production, consider purchasing one of our new 3D printed Footstops, as they are meant to help fund our r&d budget as well as prevent hangups in our normal production.