Adidas bringing 3D-printed shoes to mass market this year

7 Apr 2017

Adidas. Image: TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Adidas is dipping its toe in the 3D-printing industry, using the latest technology to create its ‘Futurecraft 4D’ shoe.

The biggest surprise in the evolution of 3D printing, perhaps, is how it has yet to go mainstream. This amazing technology is primed to revolutionise the entire chain of production, across everything from construction to entertainment.

Fashion brands hate being left behind so Adidas, in an attempt to see off rival brands investigating this space, has revealed plans to 3D print its latest footwear line.

Adidas has stolen a march by partnering with Carbon – a Silicon Valley start-up that can 3D print fast enough with good quality – to allow for the mass production of footwear later this year.

The soles of the shoes will be 3D printed, replacing the injection mould process that is largely the norm in the industry.

“This is a milestone – not only for us as a company, but also for the industry,” said Gerd Manz, head of technology innovation at Adidas. “We’ve cracked some of the boundaries.”

The company wants to sell 5,000 pairs of the shoe this year, before improvements to Carbon’s production speeds – utilising its ‘Digital Light Synthesis’ process – provide for 20 times that figure in 2018.

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

Standard 3D printers set layer after layer of liquid plastic into place, forming structures through carefully managed heat application. This is a slow process when it comes to mass-producing items.

Backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital and Google, Carbon’s approach to 3D printing embraces an innovative process whereby its light-sensitive polymer resin is applied before being baked for strength.

With fashion now embracing the technology, it’s interesting to note the other areas that 3D printing is emerging as a thriving disrupter.

Axial3D, a Belfast-based company that is 3D-printing anatomical models for the healthcare industry, recently secured £530,000 in seed funding.

The models allow consultants to develop new surgical techniques, trial novel procedures and perform general tests in a risk-free environment.

Medical advances through 3D printing are perhaps the most exciting to look at. As far back as 2015, researchers in Australia developed a ‘biopen’ to 3D print cells onto knees, curing multiple injuries.

Adidas. Image: TK Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic