Apr 7, 2017 | By Benedict

California 3D printer manufacturer Carbon (Carbon3D) has teamed with German sportswear giant Adidas to create a new 3D printed shoe. The companies will use Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis technique to mass-produce more than 100,000 pairs of Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D shoe before 2019.

It’s hard to image a world without Adidas. The iconic brand, with its instantly recognizable three stripes and trefoil logo, is just about everywhere—from teenagers donning the ultra-hip Adidas Gazelle sneaker to some of the world’s most famous sports stars (think Lionel Messi, Novak Djokovic, and James Harden) wearing Adidas-made jerseys and high-performance footwear.

But despite the ubiquity of the three-striped sensation, Adidas is having to work harder than ever to keep up with its main competitor, Nike, as well as other rising sportswear brands. A couple of years ago, some even speculated that relative newcomer Under Armour (which recently released its 3D printed Futurist sneaker) had actually overtaken Adidas to become Nike’s nearest rival at the top of the sporting food chain.

In recent months, however, things have looked a lot better for Adidas, with strong 2016 financial results suggesting that the German company has overcome its wobbles. This could be down to several factors, though some of the company’s smartest moves have included a focus on new “Adidas Originals” pieces, an association with aforementioned basketball star Harden, and even a collaboration with hip hop superstar Kanye West, who ended his partnership with Nike following public royalty disputes.

The latest move from Adidas sees it embracing new technology for its footwear. This comes in the form of a 3D printing collaboration with 3D printer manufacturer Carbon, best known for its continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) 3D printing technology, that will see the two companies develop a new shoe called the Futurecraft 4D. Using Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis production technique, Adidas and Carbon are aiming to mass-produce more than 100,000 pairs of the special shoe by the end of 2018.

“With Digital Light Synthesis, we venture beyond limitations of the past, unlocking a new era in design and manufacturing,” said Adidas Global Brands board member Eric Liedtke. “One driven by athlete data and agile manufacturing processes. By charting a new course for our industry, we can unleash our creativity—transforming not just what we make, but how we make it.”

Adidas says that a great deal of thought has gone into the Futurecraft 4D. For example, “17 years of running data” have contributed to its midsole design, while 50 different lattices structures were tried and tested before the best was chosen. The shoe also marks an “official departure” from more traditional forms of 3D printing. (Which is surprising, because we thought 3D printed shoes were a new thing.) Instead, Carbon and Adidas say they are “bringing additive manufacturing in the sport industry into a new dimension” with the Digital Light Synthesis 3D printing process.

Digital Light Synthesis, as its name hints, is a bit like the Digital Light Processing approach to 3D printing, in which light is projected onto liquid resin to “cure” it, turning it into a solid object layer by layer. But Digital Light Synthesis adds more to the process: in additional to digital light projection, it uses “oxygen-permeable optics” and “programmable liquid resins,” allowing Adidas and Carbon to “precisely address the needs of each athlete in regards to movement, cushioning, stability, and comfort with one single component.” The companies used Carbon’s EPU 40 material for the Futurecraft 4D shoe.

Although we don’t have a great deal of technical information about Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis technology, which appears to be a continuation of CLIP, the company says the method “overcomes shortcomings of conventional additive manufacturing methods” such as low production speed and scale, poor surface quality, and color and material restrictions. Carbon also says it has “developed a proprietary print strategy for midsoles that enables printing with essentially zero support material,” saving on raw material costs and shaving time off the post-processing stage.

Although it presents Digital Light Synthesis and the Futurecraft 4D as something of a footwear revolution, it is worth remembering that a lot of sportswear companies have already made their own 3D printed shoes. And by reworking a shoe’s midsole with 3D printed internal geometries, Adidas and Carbon are heading down a path that has been well trodden by other footwear manufacturers. New Balance and Under Armour, for example, are just two brands to have targeted this area of the shoe for a 3D printed revamp. Adidas even did so themselves with last year’s 3D Runner shoe. So while the Futurecraft 4D might turn out to be the best 3D printed footwear on the market, it certainly follows an established pattern.

“Despite the influence of technology to improve almost every other aspect of our lives, for eons the manufacturing process has followed the same four steps that make up the product development cycle: design, prototype, tool, produce,” said Dr Joseph Desimone, co-founder and CEO of Carbon. “Carbon has changed that; we’ve broken the cycle and are making it possible to go directly from design to production. We’re enabling engineers and designers to create previously impossible designs, and businesses to evolve their offerings, and FutureCraft 4D is evidence of that.”

300 pairs of the Adidas Futurecraft 4D shoe will be released in April 2017 for “friends and family,” followed by more than 5,000 pairs for retail in Fall/Winter 2017. More will come after this period.

 

 

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MarcC wrote at 4/8/2017 11:02:20 AM:

Fast, CLIP technology combined with PU materials, computational design and Adidas as the route to market I think this is truly a first global 4th Industrial Revolution manufactured product. The various others have mainly been marketing spin previews to a more conventionally manufactured product. However, still that lattice structure a bugger to clean when you step in dog poo!

MarcC wrote at 4/8/2017 10:51:14 AM:

Fast, CLIP technology combined with PU materials, computational design and Adidas as the route to market I think this is truly a first global 4th Industrial Revolution manufactured product. The others have just been marketing spin however a bugger to clean when you step in dog poo!



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