Sportswear giant Adidas has just released a salvo of 5,000 pairs of 3D-printed Futurecraft 4D shoes into the market, igniting a race to lead the next trend of customised and personalised sports shoes for everyone. Using the Carbon 3D printing DLS technology, each pair of shoes is individually customised to conform to the unique characteristics of the user’s feet.
From collaborations involving big-name shoe manufacturers such as Nike and New Balance to crowdfunded footwear from Wiivv and OLT Footcare, 3D printed shoes are the trend of the moment – and it appears to be gaining momentum.
Adidas partnered Carbon to create the Futurecraft 4D shoes, which uses a technology called Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) to create the 3D printed soles. 3D printed materials are often hard or malleable. With Carbon’s technology, the material is springy and able to bounce back almost instantaneously. Adidas also relies heavily on ARAMIS – a motion capture software used by NASA to inspect the outer hull of space shuttles – in order to track the gait of runners – and which maps skin, bone and muscle, to one day have the ability to create one-off shoes for customers.
“It’s a really versatile tool,” said George Robusti, Senior Design Director of Global Running at Adidas, of the ARAMIS system. “The technology enabled us to fine-tune how we approach the functionality of the product. You shouldn’t need to think about the shoe being there.”
Unlike their main rival, Nike, Adidas is putting their 3D program into tangible motion for consumers when they announced that the same 3D runner that had been gifted to athletes like Allison Schmitt and Mariana Pajon in Rio would be available for purchase and feature the same engineered 3D design with 3D-printed heel counter that is directly integrated into the midsole.
“This is just the beginning,” noted Senior Director of Adidas’s Future team, Mikal Peveto. “Creating customised shoes based on an individual’s footprint – including their running style, foot shape, performance needs and personal preferences – is a north star for the industry and Adidas is leading with cutting edge innovations.”
Futurecraft 4D create with Carbon video:
New Balance Titillates with 44 Pairs Only
New Balance unveiled their first 3D-printed release intended for the public last year – the Zante Generate – the industry’s first performance running shoe with a 3D-printed midsole.
Limited to just 44 pairs and priced at USD$400, the 3D-printed midsoles were created by converting new powder material into solid cross-sections, which achieved an optimal balance of flexibility, strength, weight and durability due in large part because of the hundreds of small, open cells that provided cushioning and structure.
New Balance collaborated with 3D Systems to produce its 3D printed running shoes, using the latter’s SLS technology and its elastomeric powder SLS material called Duraform Flex TPU.
“There is potential that printed parts could be superior to the foam parts we’re making now,” said Katherine Petrecca, General Manager for Studio Innovation at New Balance. “But the future of on-demand manufacturing is also very attractive.”
“With 3D printing we are able to pursue performance customisation at a new level to help our elite NB athletes and eventually all athletes, “said New Balance President and CEO, Robert DeMartini, earlier. “We believe this is the future of performance footwear and we are excited to bring this to consumers.”
New Balance and Formlabs are also combining forces to develop new, high-performance and customisable footwear. Formlabs, an international company founded by engineers and designers at the MIT Media Lab in 2011, will use its Form 2 three-dimensional printer to create personalised products for customers.
While New Balance has used 3D technology to engineer sneakers in the past, its customised footwear was reserved for professional runners and other sports teams. The new business partnership will allow New Balance to sell custom sneakers to customers.
“3D printing gives companies the ability to provide higher performance, better fitting, and more personalised products,” said Formlabs CEO Max Lobovsky. “With New Balance, we are demonstrating that it can be done at scale for consumer goods.”
Nike’s Football Boot Draws Praise
Athletic shoemaker Nike introduced its new Nike Vapor Ultimate Cleat American football boot, which combines 3D knitting (what Nike calls its proprietary flat knitted Flyknit technology) and 3D shoe printing to give players an athletic shoe that delivers both lightweight speed and strength.
Not only did it draw praise for its design, it was applauded by the environmental community for eliminating 3.5 million pounds of waste due to its one-piece construction. By integrating 3D knitting with 3D shoe printing, Nike is giving athletes shoes that have a second-skin, sock-like fit that adapt to each individual player’s foot as well as to his style of play, helping athletes perform at their highest level.
Tom Clarke, President, Nike Innovation, explains, “At Nike we innovate for the world’s best athletes. We’ve been using 3D printing to create new performance innovations for footwear for several years. Now we are excited about accelerating and scaling our existing capabilities to help athletes reach their full potential.”
Shane Kohatsu, Director of Nike Footwear Innovation added, “SLS technology has revolutionised the way we design cleat plates – even beyond football – and gives Nike the ability to create solutions that were not possible within the constraints of traditional manufacturing processes.”
You can watch the Nike Vapor HyperAgility Cleat video here:
What makes 3D printed shoes so enticing for consumers is that the shoes are tailored to each person’s unique feet. Few people have feet that are identical. In other words, your left foot might be slightly wider or smaller than your right foot. Because of this, finding shoes that fit both feet perfectly is rare. In addition, the current shoe sizing system mainly takes into account how long someone’s feet are. Finding shoes for wide or thick feet is difficult.
3D Printing solves these problems. It allows manufacturers to design and produce shoes that are fully customised, making them more comfortable and healthier to wear. 3D scanning technology has advanced to the point that it is becoming easy to obtain complete data about a person’s feet, leading to perfectly moulded shoes.
3D printing can save time and money in the production process and will allow for greater customisation. Currently, prices are on the steep side, but once it picks up, prices will drop to affordable levels.
In the meantime, the race for market supremacy among the sportswear giants continues.