3D Printing: The Future of Trainers

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With the advent of faster and more efficient 3D printers, companies in every niche of the manufacturing industry are turning their sights to printed products, and the sportswear industry is no different. Trainer technology is always evolving, from Adidas’ Ultraboost sole to Nike’s Hyperadapt self-lacing shoes. The future has arrived.

It was early 2015 when designs of Adidas’ new 3D printed trainer debuted. They incorporated a traditional 3D printed midsole and, thus, the Futurecraft line was born. However, despite traditional 3D printing technology growing in prevalence and decreasing in price, the overall design of the printers meant that its use on a large, market-wide scale would be hindered by slow production times and precision issues. Adidas identified a new method of printing, altering designs of the Futurecraft.

Carbon, 18th on the Technology Reviews Top 50 Smartest Companies, was selected for the Futurecraft project after seeing their printing methods. Carbon had engineered an innovative way of 3D printing which was much faster than the traditional layer by layer plastic lattice. Known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), the process utilises digital light projection, oxygen permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins to create a final product with nanometre perfect precision and a high-quality finish unseen in alternative 3D printing methods.

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CLIP involves pulling liquid resin out of a pool of the same material, then projecting UV light onto the surface in the required shape, causing it to harden into the correct mould – known as Digital Light Synthesis (DLS). The main issue Carbon had to overcome was how to prevent the new mould of resin from becoming attached to the bottom of the pool. This was overcome by implementing oxygen permeable optic that allows oxygen to enter the pool of resin. The reaction in which UV causes the material to harden is unable to occur when in the presence of oxygen.

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Adidas identified this technology as a means to finally print a trainer for the masses at prices that were premium but achievable. Teaming up with Carbon, the Adidas design team created 150 different variants of the Futurecraft trainer before selecting the final model seen today. The Futurecraft 4D, a high performance running shoe with a CLIP printed midsole, offering precision, comfort and flexibility, is based off 17 years of data taken from high performance athletes. There are already high-profile advocates of the trainer such as, England footballer, Delli Alli and, Olympic medallist, Torie Bowie. The German sports company claim it will be on the market by Fall 2017, with around 5,000 being sold, rising to 100,000 before the end of 2018. Gerd Manz, Adidas head of technology innovation, commented on the quantity produced as being “a milestone not only for us a company but also for the industry.”

The sportswear giant has stated that, in the future they hope the technology in place will be fast enough and cheap enough so that people can walk into any Adidas store globally, and have a shoe printed for them at a respectable price with the entire shoe moulded and customised to their footprint and required use. This will be the future of footwear – shoes that no longer match a set UK or European size but rather are custom built for each respective consumer.

Adidas has a history of using innovative material, for example their collaboration with Parley. These shoes are crafted from plastic recovered from ocean waters, preventing marine life from eating the nonbiodegradable material. This plastic has been woven into many different Adidas models, showcasing their innovative mindset.

It is apparent that 3D printing will be the next major manufacturing trend. The only question is when.