3D printing is helping shoe manufacturers improving design and production performance. In March US athletic brand New Balance introduced a track-specific running shoe that uses 3D printing to customised spike plate on the sole of shoes that is supposed to enhance performance with every step; and since 1997, Reebok has been using 3D printing for prototyping. To reduce design time, PUMA has switched from outsourcing its prototypes to using an in-house Objet 3D Printer, and Clarks has been doing it for the last ten years.
But what are the advantages of using 3D printing in shoemaking? The Financial Times reports that Nike and Adidas are using 3D printing to speed up the process, "using the technology to make multiple prototype versions at a previously impossible speed."
In February, Nike introduced its next wave of football cleat innovation at the 2013 NFL Combine: new Nike Vapor Laser Talon, the first football cleat to use 3D printing technology.
"Within six months we were able to go through 12 rounds of prototype iterations that we fully tested, and ultimately we were able to make super dramatic improvements to our products," said Shane Kohatsu, innovation director at Nike's Oregon headquarters. "With traditional injection moulding techniques, Nike would typically update complex product parts such as studs "every couple of years." added Kohatsu.
At Adidas, previously 12 technicians were required to handmade its prototypes. With 3D printing no more than two are needed. The company said 3D printers had reduced the time it needed to evaluate a new prototype by four to six weeks to one or two days.
More shoe manufacturers are exploiting technological advances of 3D printing. The Belgian shoe retailer Runners Service Lab, received a grant of 152,000 euro from the Flemish innovation agency IWT to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing affordable custom-made running shoes with 3D printers.
Still, 3D printed shoes are not ready yet to be sold to mass market. The main limitation at present is the slow speed of 3D printing: it would take a 3D printer, for example Stratasys' machine, about two hours to produce a single sole.
"What's really intriguing for us is not the volumes that you can make. It's really more how rapidly you can make changes," said Nike's Mr Kohatsu.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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