Aug 3, 2016 | By Alec

The Rio Olympics are about to kick off, with the opening ceremony scheduled for Saturday 6 August. Despite controversy about the state of infrastructure and several sporting venues, we can finally start getting excited about the races themselves. And as always, many athletes are expected to showcase the latest equipment innovations at the Olympics. While swimmers are usually focused on water repellant fabrics, US star swimmer Michael Phelps is bringing a more unusual equipment innovation to Brazil: 3D printed customized shoes by Under Armour, featuring a black footprint marking of Phelps’ three-month-old son Boomer.

This is probably the most remarkable sponsorship deal we’ve ever seen, as world champion swimmer Michael Phelps won’t exactly be swimming for gold while wearing these shoes. But every form of publicity is good publicity, and Under Armour is keen to show off their innovations in the footwear sector. In fact, Phelps will be bringing two pairs of 3D printed shoes to Brazil: the Architech, the first-ever commercially available 3D printed training shoe, and the SpeedForm Slingshot running shoe.

Under Armour, of course, is the sports apparel developer who made headlines earlier this year for their 3D printing achievements. Founded in 1996, the company has always been a very keen adopter of innovative technologies and fabrics, and leaped at the opportunity to use 3D printing. Despite other 3D printing projects by sports industry giants Nike and Adidas, the smaller underdog became the first to unveil a 3D printed training shoe for the consumer market in March.

But their shoes are certainly more than a gimmick. Featuring a 3D printed lattice midsole, this provides the athletes with light and springy cushioning for unmatched comfort and agility. The result is a hybrid-like sports shoe that is ideal for a range of training activities, from heavy weight lifting to speed workouts. Not for swimming, mind you. The 3D printed lattice structures are in fact algorithmically generated based on desired criteria: durability, flexibility, and weight. This structurally complex 3D model is then further refined using Autodesk Fusion 360 and 3ds Max software, resulting in an optimized 3D lattice that could not be realized without laser 3D printing technology.

What’s more, this 3D printed footwear can also be customized, as Michael Phelps’ shoes illustrate. Clearly visible on the sole and on the outside is a tiny black footprint: the foot of Boomer Phelps, the three-month old son of the star athlete. As Under Armour revealed, this was the perfect way for the father to travel to another continent while keeping his son as near to him as possible. “It’s a personal reminder that Boomer is with him every step and stroke of the way,” they said.

Phelps is also one of the first athletes to be outfitted with a custom pair of Architech shoes, giving the company a perfect platform to showcase their tech-savvy shoes. Their Stephen Curry Basketball shoes are also very popular, while Jordan Spieth wore a pair of custom 3D printed golf shoes at the 2016 Open Championship last month.

While it certainly takes guts to pick a swimmer to market your new shoes, Under Armour sees plenty of opportunities. The footwear business is booming, with sales soaring by 61% over the first six months of 2016 (reaching $507 million), while the demand for custom solutions is bigger than ever. Under Amour are all too aware of that, as the first edition of the Architech (released in March) was sold out in just 20 minutes. While the market segment for 3D printed footwear is still relatively small, the Olympics could be the perfect platform to create even more awareness. Perhaps we’ll all be wearing 3D printed footwear in a few years from now.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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