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Leading footwear brands making significant investments in developing effective digital footwear

3D printed footwear market is growing globally and is set to grow into a 6.3 billion overall revenue opportunity over the next 10 years (according to the latest report from SmarTech Publishing).

3D printing shoes
Figure 1: Adidas, 3D printed sole, made from a recycled, resistant and durable elastomeric polyurethane, is responsible for giving the wearer the unique sensation of running on sand.

And leading footwear brands are have been making significant investments in developing effective digital footwear manufacturing workflows.

Five leading brands such as Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Under Armour and Reebok coming out with their take on it and producing different footwear final parts and products, relying on different technologies and materials.

Leading footwear brands in 3D printing

Adidas is in the forefront of the industry in 3D printing shoes. Adidas is the brand that has made the most significant steps toward implementing additive manufacturing in footwear mass production.

Adidas recently released their sneaker: the Alphaedge 4D that mixes traditional manufacturing with 3D printing. This sneaker was produced in their ongoing collaboration with the 3D startup Carbon by the end of 2018 Adidas introduced 100.000 pairs of their new shoes and are planning to push the technology even further in 2019 aiming to produce in the millions in the coming year.

“We are scaling a production. The plan will put us as the (world’s) biggest producer of 3D printed products.”

James Carnes, vice president of strategy creation at Adidas

“We have a really aggressive plan to scale this,” stated James Carnes, vice president of strategy creation at Adidas, last year.

James Carnes continues; “We are scaling a production. The plan will put us as the (world’s) biggest producer of 3D printed products.”

Nike was among the first companies to make intensive use of 3D printing in high-performance product development, using the technology for quick iterations of functional parts.

SDM tech Nike Flyprint
Figure 2: The solid deposit modeling (SDM) technology for the Nike Flyprint uppers.

3D printing allowed to test, iterate and create shapes not possible with traditional manufacturing processes, which helped push the limits of innovation faster.

Nike has also reportedly been working with Prodways on developing a line of 3D printed midsoles using the company’s SLS technology and TPU materials.

New Balance was one of the first companies to experiment with 3D printing for a number of applications. First, it unveiled the Zante Generate shoe with 3D printed midsole in partnership with 3D Systems in 2016. Produced by SLS using the Duraform TPU elastomer material, the Zante Generate was the first 3D printed running sneaker to be made commercially available

The company is working toward increased use of 3D printing as a means to automate (and possibly onshore) midsole manufacturing processes.

Under Armour’s UA Architech is a line of shoes that features a 3D printed midsole. The first Architect line product was introduced in 2016, designed with Autodesk software and produced using EOS SLS technology.

3D customised midsoles
Figure 3: ECCO customized midsoles.

Reebok debuted the Liquid Floatride Run shoe, made using the same technology it introduced in its Liquid Factory. The process is essentially a 3D drawing process.

Of course, the numbers that are producing with 3D printing today are tiny if compared to the overall footwear market. But the technology gives the designer more freedom and can give the consumer looking for a more unique and fashion-forward shoe a way to express themselves better.

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