Could 3D printing be the next leap forward for shoe manufacturers?

3D printing technology could lead to the rise of individually-designed shoes

The Financial Times reported last week on how major shoe manufacturers, most notably Nike and Adidas, are embracing 3D printing technology in order to speed up the shoemaking process, using the technology to make multiple prototype versions at a previously impossible speed.

3D printing technology is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the technology spread, especially as its use becomes more widely used and reported, and the fact that such major companies are utilising it now should mean some interesting future developments – particularly given the bad press that the 3D printing industry has encountered following the hype over home-made guns in the U.S.

Shane Kohatsu, innovation director at Nike’s Oregon headquarters, told the Financial Times that 3D printing had accelerated development of its Vapor Laser Talon boot for professional American footballers.

“Within six months we were able to go through 12 rounds of prototype iterations that we fully tested, and ultimately we were able to make super dramatic improvements to our products,” he said.

The sole is made of solid nylon. With traditional injection moulding techniques, whereby molten plastic is injected into a steel mould, Nike would typically update complex product parts such as studs “every couple of years”, Mr Kohatsu said.

Germany’s Adidas said 3D printers had reduced the time it needed to evaluate a new prototype by four to six weeks to one or two days.

Before the advent of 3D printing, Adidas prototypes were handmade by 12 technicians. With the new technology, no more than two people are required to produce them – and the companies can avoid potentially hugely damaging PR episodes as seen in the clothing makers affected by the recent Bangladeshi factory collapse tragedy.

The FT also remarks that In sports footwear, innovations typically come on the bottom of the shoe – as with the air-cushioned Nike Air range introduced in the 1980s, and the bouncy foam-based Boost running shoe that Adidas launched this year – so this kind of technology could open up a whole new world of possibilities – most intriguingly individually tailored shoes.

With 3D printing – also called additive manufacturing – shoe makers are exploiting technological advances that were driven by heavy industries such as aerospace, and hopefully taking their industry further into the future.

[Via Financial Times]

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