Some big names in the footwear realm are exploring the potential of 3D printing to give their shoes an edge, including Nike, New Balance and Under Armor. Adidas is one that seems to be pretty much sold on its value, and has today revealed the first shoes it will mass-produce using the emerging manufacturing method.
Adidas' flirtation with 3D printing goes back to 2015 when it revealed the Futurecraft 3D, a concept running shoe with a 3D-printed insole. The end game here is to one day enable customers to walk into a store, have a jog on a treadmill and then walk out with a customized running shoe tailor-made to fit their feet.
In December last year, Adidas then followed up with the 3D Runner, a running shoe featuring 3D-printed components for greater elasticity, which the company would go on to release in limited numbers. But its latest stride in the area is certainly its largest yet – the so-called Futurecraft 4D, a 3D-printed trainer that it plans to produce more than 100,000 pairs of by the end of 2018.
And Adidas isn't even calling it 3D-printing anymore. The midsoles were created with light and oxygen through a process called Digital Light Synthesis (DLS), a name given to an edgy 3D printing technology by the company that created it, the Silicon Valley-based Carbon.
Carbon says its approach is 25 to 100 times faster and overcomes the limitations of traditional 3D printing, which it describes as inconsistent mechanical properties due to the layer-by-layer printing approach. The DLS process sees UV light projected through an oxygen-permeable window onto a liquid, UV-sensitive resin that then cures into a desired shape in response. According to Carbon, this results in more consistent and mechanically predictable parts.
The Futurecraft 4D is Adidas' first foray into DLS manufacturing, and it used its archive of running data to create the shoes' midsoles in this way. Bespoke trainers are still a ways off, but Adidas does say that DLS opens the door to tailor-made shoes for individual athletes with cushioning and stability to suit different needs. And perhaps more importantly, it says it makes it possible to create such shoes at scale.
To begin with, 5,000 pairs of the Futurecraft 4D will become available in fall/winter 2017 (northern hemisphere), with more than 100,000 pairs coming by the end of the following year. There is no word yet on pricing, but as a guide, last year's limited run 3D runners were priced at US$333.
You can check out the promo video from Carbon below.