adidas has developed a high-performance shoe called Futurecraft 4D that features a midsole created using Carbon’s digital light synthesis (DLS) 3D printing process. This application of 3D printing is not new in the sports shoe sector, but where the company is heading with the Futurecraft series, and 3D printing, is.
The Futurecraft 4D’s midsole is the first 3D printed footwear component that the company has committed to mass producing. adidas started exploring 3D printing as a means of production in 2014 and introduced the Futurecraft 3D Runner shoe—incorporating a 3D printed midsole and heel cup—a year later.
The Futurecraft 4D marks adidas’s entry into athlete data-driven design and manufacturing. Looking to create ‘the ultimate running shoe for all’, adidas analyzed its complete 17-year library of running data in order to incorporate various functional zones into its latest 3D printed midsole's design.
Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, DLS has allowed adidas to precisely address athletes’ various requirements—in terms of comfort, cushioning, stability and movement—in a single component. Furthermore, the process affords numerous opportunities for customization, for example, it could feasibly be used to create shoes of the same size for athletes of different weights.
DLS also eliminates the necessity of traditional tooling or molding stages, therefore significantly shortening the design to production lifecycle and reducing costs.
DLS is achieved through the combined use of Carbon’s continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) technology and programmable liquid resins. CLIP carefully balances ultraviolet (UV) light and oxygen in order to selectively cure the resin; UV light triggers the solidification of the resin and oxygen inhibits it, thus allowing the component to take shape. It delivers high-quality polymeric components that afford excellent durability and elastomeric responsiveness.
adidas is producing 300 pairs of Futurecraft 4D for friends and family this month, followed by 5,000 pairs for retail in autumn/winter 2017. The company also has plans to scale-up manufacture of the shoe for a further 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018.
Eric Liedtke, executive board member of adidas responsible for global brands, said: ‘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. By charting a new course for our industry, we can unleash our creativity, transforming not just what we make, but how we make it.’
Dr. Joseph DeSimone, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Carbon, further commented: ‘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. 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.’
DLS is to play an integral role in future operations at adidas’s Speedfactory, in Ansbach, Germany, and help the company realize its vision of creating on-demand, high-performance footwear that is customized to individual customers’ physiological data.