No longer relegated just to the runway and museum exhibits, 3D printed footwear is hitting the streets — and running shoes are way out in front.
As the Verge reports, Adidas will make 5,000 pairs of its Futurecraft 4D sneakers available this year, with plans to sell 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018. The midsole, printed using Carbon‘s revolutionary continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) process, is more robust and flexible than an injection-molded part.
Adidas gave its first version of the Futurecraft 4D to some winning athletes at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Nike used 3D printing to prototype track shoes for the Rio games, but they were manufactured through traditional methods. While Nike has been a little slow to release 3D printed footwear to the masses, they have a new partnership with the French 3D printing company Prodways. According to Footwear News, Prodways’ TPU outsoles, midsoles, and insoles will greatly decrease Nike’s production time, with the added benefit of creating more form-fitting, comfortable shoes.
New Balance introduced the Zante Generate, featuring a midsole designed by Nervous System and 3D printed by 3D Systems, last year. New Balance just signed on to produce more 3D printed sneakers using Form Cell, Formlabs’ recently announced small-scale manufacturing system that links up to five Form 2 3D printers with Form Wash + Form Cure machines.
According to Esquire, Reebok created 300 pairs of its Liquid Speed sneakers using its Liquid Factory system. The outsole is 3D printed and wraps around the sneaker as a flexible cage. This allows the sneaker to mold to the foot and give extra return energy to runners with every step. Last month, at the RAPID + TCT additive manufacturing expo, I saw Under Armour’s new “super hybrid” trainer, designed using generative design and 3D printing for everything from running to weightlifting. Sneaker News reports that the next version of the cross trainer, the ArchiTech Futurist, is due out this week.
Not all 3D printed footwear is for elite athletes and runners. Feetz takes a different approach, offering custom-fit shoes through their FeetzApp. Customers take photos of their feet and the app processes it into a 3D model. Recently, Feetz formed a partnership with retailer DSW, with Feetz@DSW pop-up shops in NYC and San Francisco, according to 3DPrint.com.
Wiivv prints custom insoles and recently had a successful Kickstarter for recyclable 3D printed sandals with interchangeable and custom toe-thong placement. As with Feetz, users take photos of their feet with an app.
Brunel University London student Faisal Tayan is creating customizable shoes for refugees, 3DPrint.com recently reported. Rather than using a 3D printer to create bespoke shoes, Tayan used a 3D printed mechanism that lets his Shoe4All expand from size 6 to 11. For each pair he sells, Tayan plans to donate one pair of shoes to a person in need.
So 3D printed footwear looks and sounds sexy, but is it really the wave of the future — or is it just hype? Shapeways’ Lauren Slowik recently shared her opinion. I’m more optimistic than Lauren, and tend to think that 3D printing has a wide range of applications and will appeal to consumers’ desires for better fit, comfort, and customization.
What do you think? Are you wearing 3D printed shoes yet? Will your next pair of kicks be 3D printed, or is it a novelty that will go the way of the way of the shoe phone?