Adidas 3D Printed Shoe: Revolutionary Footwear & Shoe Production
Seems like only yesterday, the first news articles, radio and TV broadcasts and marketing events revolving around the amazing and revolutionary 3D printers were making their introductions in an industry that would never be the same. Like a scene straight out of Star Trek, all you had to do is load the right program, and…viola ́! Now, you can “print” basically anything you can imagine: tools, toys and now, even sneaker soles.
The general public has wholeheartedly embraced the concept of having the ability to create custom products in a big, big way; so, it doesn’t surprise us that corporate giants such as Adidas would also jump on the 3D printing bandwagon. But, it didn’t happen overnight.
Just to lend a little perspective, the story of Adidas began in 1925. The iconic logo consisting of the internationally recognizable “three stripes” were conceived of and instituted by Adidas founder, Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler who realized there was an urgent need for athletic shoes that would actually perform. It wasn’t long before the Adidas name started appearing on soccer and running shoes, which are still the main focus of this renown athletic shoe manufacturer.
Throughout the years, Adidas has continually gained popularity and momentum – a result of customer satisfaction, design, and the use of high quality materials in every shoe. Their loyal customers and superb reputation have earned them the current status of Europe’s largest supplier of athletic shoes, and rank second in the world with sales in almost 200 countries. In 1994 Adidas did 3 billion dollars in sales and one year later went public with its stock. The company continues to trade internationally and posted an astounding 40% increase in net sales a year after that.
The Dassler family has its roots in shoe making and the tradition continued with Rudolf (Adi’s brother) who founded the Puma brand in 1948. Also, the grandson of Adi Dassler, (his namesake) went on to establish his own brand: A. D. One, specializing in sub-urban and adventure ready styles of footwear and clothing including: T-shirts, jackets, athletic uniforms, tank tops, sweat shirts, sweat pants, shorts, socks, boxers and hats.
Fast Forward to The Adidas Futurecraft 4D
Perfecting the Process
Adidas has been experimenting with 3D printing as a method of manufacturing athletic shoes for quite some time. But as you’re about to see, the Futurecraft 4D could very well be the gold medal winner at the end of the athletic shoe manufacturer’s three-dimensional printing race. The middle of the sole is created by using a specific process known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production. Imagine watching as your product takes shape. Slowly, the liquid polymer resin is extracted by using a pulling method and formed into its desired shape then baked via ultraviolet light. Observing the entire process of printing a running shoe has been a fascinating project to watch. From its inception, Adidas has employed Carbon; a start-up company in Silicon Valley that created the aforementioned design method for constructing a 3D sneaker sole. Note some of the challenges and goals Adidas faced and the steps taken to get the job done:
: Create a fast and adaptable 3D printing method
• Achieve mass-production
• Keep up with changing fashion trends
• Implement methods for more customized products
• Limited production runs
Increased customer interaction
• Limited edition runs
• Economical designs
• Customized foot-shape, weight and gait designs
Create milestones for the industry
• A grand total of 100,000 pairs manufactured by the end of 2018.
• Rival existing injection mold production (increased durability and added flexibility).
• On-site and pop-up manufacturing plus sales at specifically targeted events.
• Robot operated stores
• Reduce manufacturing time from 1.5 hours to 20 minutes
The 3D printing industry is starting to produce products that are slowly becoming more reliable and affordable but, it’s not quite there yet. The automotive, dental, medical and jewelry related businesses are expected to drive sales of “printed” items to an anticipated 26 billion dollars by 2022. Last year when Adidas released the Futurecraft 4D Athletic Shoe it sold for $333.00. By introducing more products to run, it should lessen the cost penalty per item, thereby, making them more affordable for the consumer. Truly, patience is a virtue.
Adidas Introduces A New Era in Durable, High Performance Materials
Giving the Customer a Run for Their Money
The Futurecraft 4D Athletic Shoe designed by Adidas, reflects data collected from athlete’s over the years. The data-driven design is then subjected to digital light synthesis technology. The result is a precisely tuned, energy-controlled shoe for the athlete providing a stable, long-lasting cushion for your run. These are the steps taken by Carbon and Adidas in perfecting the midsole used in the Futurecraft 4D:
Step#1: Midsole Technology
• Every midsole is grown from liquid polymer resin.
• A lattice network forms supporting optimal running performance.
• The lattice network (20,000 individual struts) may be adapted to provide controlled and precise energy return.
Step #2: Innovative Attributes: Digital Light Synthesis
• Carbon pioneered a breakthrough 3D printing process by implementing a process that transforms liquid into solids.
• When submitted to light and oxygen the end product is a next-level, high performance, durable material.
Step #3: The Marketing Hype
• The Product Release: The “unveiling” of the Futurecraft 4D took place in January, 2018. Says Eric Liedtke, global brands executive board member, “It’s all about quality materials used in manufacturing, production speed and scale in ways that have not been possible before now. We will reduce overall printing time, which previously took dozens of hours, to tens of minutes.”
• The YouTube Video: The dynamic introduction of the Futurecraft 4D has made its way to YouTube with over 100 videos available to watch online. You’ll be able to actually see the history making sneaker in action while listening reviews, commentary and forecasts from many prominent news organizations, websites, as well as Adidas themselves.
• The Promises: The excitement emanating from the 3D-printed shoe is based on less production time which encourages and allows extreme customization. Presently, when a shoe manufacturer produces a mass-market product, millions are made for one particular foot type, regardless of the weight or measurements of the consumer. Now, there exists futuristic technology to address and fine tune specific regions of the shoe like never before.
• The Product Development Cycle: Technology will always be used to hopefully improve certain aspects of our lives. For countless generations, the process of manufacturing has always followed the same four basic steps that comprise a products development cycle: the design, a prototype, necessary tools, production. These steps have been changed by Carbon making it possible to go instantly from design to production. Engineers and designers alike are encouraged to create designs that were considered impossible to produce.
• An example of the exponential effect this has on manufacturing is realized when you can obtain 12,000 pairs of shoes per month from only ten people in a 2,000 square foot area working with as few as 100 printers.
It is certainly exciting to witness new types of technology make their entrance into the world. As your eyes absorb the skillfully programmed manufacturing process of the Futurecraft 4D by Adidas, your brain automatically kicks in, imagining the possibilities and endless applications for the 3D printing process. If you love feasting on new technology, new inventions or just want to witness something totally awesome, find a video of the Futurecraft 4D midsole under construction…so cool!
Cliché or Fact:
Does Competition Still Benefit the Consumer?
Time to do the Research
All our lives we’ve heard the same, all too familiar clichés; monopolies bad, competition good. Competitors seeking the same audience are more likely to offer a little something extra to the consumer, making their product the one you ultimately purchase. Celebrity endorsements, television, newspaper, internet and radio advertising, entirely supported by the customer. So, what is the payoff for brand loyalty and who’s doing what to earn your trust? If we go back to January of 2016 we can witness the introduction of the first 3D printed midsole by New Balance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Katherine Petrecca, general manager for studio innovation said at the time of the unveiling that “the future of on-demand manufacturing is very attractive as the potential in using printed shoe parts may prove superior to foam.” Let’s take a closer look at the steps taken by New Balance, Nike and Under Armour in manufacturing their 3D midsole as well as other features to enhance the runner’s performance:
Step #1: The Printing Process
• The midsole of the New Balance running shoe is printed by using a sintering process which is a method of compacting and forming a completely solid mass of material by means of heat or pressure without causing it to melt. Sintering occurs naturally when used with metals, plastics, ceramics and other materials when the atoms in these various materials are spread beyond the boundaries of the particles. The particles are then fused together resulting in a single solid piece. A good example of sintering is the formation of a glacier after extreme amounts of ice and snow have accumulated and have been subjected to extreme pressure.
• Under Armour’s contribution to the 3D printed shoe world is the UA Architect. This training shoe has a 3D-printed midsole and was launched in limited quantity in March of 2016.
• The UA Architect is marketed as a multi-purpose training shoe featuring a 3D-printed midsole which is lattice-structured employing the selective laser sintering process also known as SLS. The limited quantity of the UA Architect consisted of 96 pairs and were quickly devoured at $300.00 a pair.
• Nike introduced the Vapor Laser Talon cleat featuring its 3D-printed plate design in limited quantities in 2013 to professional athletes. In 2014, Nike launched its new 3D printed running shoe; the Vapor Hyper Agility Cleat. Not to be confused with ordinary running shoes, as they have been tested on turf resulting in a faster run time and facilitate an easier direction change.
• Nike, along with every other sports shoe manufacturer is using 3D printing techniques with the goal of speeding up the process of producing the shoes the public is asking for.
Step #2: Customer Data
In order to give the customer a unique design with aesthetically pleasing attributes, New Balance constructed shoes made from scans of the customers own feet giving them a perfect fit.
• By offering the consumer the opportunity to customize their design, customer satisfaction would promote increased sales.
• Increased sales leading to mass-production would result in lower prices.
Step #3: The Secret of Success is Selection and Surprises
Having multiple choices to offer your customer is one goal just about every business has in common. But just as important is making your actions speak louder than your words. Having a positive reputation is vital for all companies these days especially with the post purchase reviews available online. Yes, customer service is a vital aspect of business, but what happens when a company does something admirable during the actual manufacturing process?
Perhaps the biggest surprise in researching these various methods and materials is the amazing concern Adidas (in association with Parley for the Oceans), New Balance, Under Armour and Nike are showing to create their 3D printed running shoes, uppers and accessories. The following points illustrate the extra steps these companies are taking to help fight the problem of pollution because, after all is said and done, we’re still talking about plastic:
• By incorporating the plastic waste polluting the oceans of the world, and recycling it, the “upper” in the Futurecraft 4D by Adidas, is produced by using ocean plastic. Additionally, the midsole consists of recycled polyester and a type of fishing net commonly known as gillnets. Adidas as the founding member of Parley for the Oceans supports the educational and communication efforts made by the organization. They also help promote its comprehensive Ocean Plastic Program A.I.R. (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) whose primary purpose is to eliminate plastic pollution of the ocean. Since the partnership formed in April 2015, Adidas has stopped using plastic bags in their retail locations.
• New Balance is pursuing sustainable materials for the production of their 3D printed products stating their main focus is to identify and eliminate waste.
Key elements in the New Balance environmental improvement process includes:
Education relating to issues in product design, development and manufacturing.
LCA (life cycle analysis) will help them make decisions related to commodity impacts and material choices.
100% recyclable paper used in shoebox and lining.
Identifying and controlling the use of hazardous substances in production including heavy metals, chemical solvents, phthalates and some types of dyes.
Adherence to the New Balance Restricted Substances Manual
• Every facet of the Under Armour operation is designed with a healthier planet in mind including all stages of manufacturing, packaging, dying, and printing.
Under Armour is totally committed to environmental improvement by turning plastic water bottles into clothing.
For every kWh (kilowatt hour) consumed by Under Armour, they purchase a kWh of clean wind power (certified) from the grid.
Additionally, each Under Armour retail location and building utilizes energy saving lights and equipment.
UA also incorporates the use of recycled displays, wood from forests which are managed responsibly, and more.
• In 2009 Nike launched the GreenXchange; a place where corporations can post intellectual property, processes, methodology and ideas, providing a platform where brainstorming is welcome. Their goal is to implement green solutions to shared issues and concerns.
Flyknit is one of Nike’s solutions to landfills turning limited resources into sportswear and athletic shoes, producing 60% less waste.
Nike Grind is the regeneration of existing products such as water bottles, and transforms them into materials used in the production of clothing, footwear, and surfaces.
Seems that every product lining the shelves of any store we would happen to walk into is some variation of the original product. From applesauce to tomato sauce, each one is made just a little bit different than the other just so the company has a chance to please everybody. It’s the same situation with sportswear, and of course, 3D printed shoes. The technology making this all possible is the Continuous Liquid Interface Production and the Selective Laser Sintering process. They enable a manufacturer to work with lasers and mechanisms which are highly powered thus, adjustments that used to take months to complete can be addressed in just a couple of hours. Ever since the 3D printer was first invented by Charles W. (Chuck) Hull in the middle of the ’80’s, the items you would normally go to the store for became something you could basically make yourself providing you had the right knowledge, computer and materials. Depending on how complicated your venture is, it’s probably doable with a 3D printer. The athletic shoe industry is showing us how their technology will help us run faster, jump higher and create less waste; those are all good things. Now the question is-what’s it worth to you to find out if it’s true? It would definitely be a cool and very exciting experience to slip on a pair of those Futurecraft 4D running shoes by Adidas, and instantly feel the difference in your walking and see the improvement in your running times, but before you can do that you’ve got to buy a pair. Currently, most of these manufacturers still have a price tag for the 3D printed shoe that runs between $300. and $2500. Only one company had them under $100. Just one more thing to ponder before jumping into your first pair of custom printed and fitted technological wonders…are you ready for the printed outfit to go with it?