Adidas Uses Carbon’s 3D Printing to Mass-Produce Futurecraft 4D Shoes
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 07, 2017 |
Adidas has announced a new line of shoes that feature midsoles 3D printed with Carbon’s Digital Ligh...

Shortly after the release of Carbon’s new SpeedCell platform, the company is now involved in what could be a huge step for 3D printing as a means of end product manufacturing. Adidas has just announced that it will be using Carbon’s unique additive manufacturing (AM) technology to produce the midsoles of a new line of shoes. Unlike other shoes with 3D-printed midsoles, which are released in small batches, the Futurecraft 4D line will be manufactured at the scale of 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018.

The Futurecraft 4D shoe, which features a 3D-printed midsole made using Carbon technology. (Image courtesy of adidas.)
The Futurecraft 4D shoe, which features a 3D-printed midsole made using Carbon technology. (Image courtesy of adidas.)

Adidas brought its first 3D-printed shoe, the 3D Runner, to market in December 2016, at which point the company noted that it would be setting up “Speed Factories” that would use advanced manufacturing, like 3D printing, to produce its products. Carbon’s AM process may be one of the few that is capable of fabricating such end parts due to the speed at which it prints and the physical properties of the objects it produces.

Now referred to as Digital Light Synthesis, this process projects light through an oxygen permeable membrane at a vat of photopolymer resin. The use of this membrane makes it possible to print parts at extremely rapid speeds—25 to 100 times faster than many other processes.

Not only that, but the continuous nature of the printing procedure results in parts with isometric strength, which is strength that is equal in all directions. This characteristic is not seen in most 3D printing processes. Additionally, parts printed with Digital Light Synthesis undergo heat treatment after fabrication that activates secondary properties associated with Carbon’s specially engineered materials. This makes it possible for these parts to exhibit engineering-grade characteristics associated with injection molded plastic.

In addition to the speed of the Digital Light Synthesis process itself, the ability to both iterate design and manufacture on Carbon’s printers makes it possible to avoid the need for expensive tooling that may take time to produce. As Carbon CEO Joseph DeSimone pointed out in our recent interview, prototypes produced with Carbon technology are made with the same material and process as those that are manufactured with Carbon technology. The same can’t be said of prototypes made for injection molding, which will exhibit very different properties than the mass-produced end product.

DeSimone said of the latest news, “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. Our partnership with adidas will serve as an ongoing testament to how the digital revolution has reached the global manufacturing sector, changing the way physical goods are designed, engineered, made and delivered.”

Adidas believes that, with this technology, it’s possible to mass produce shoes that feature 3D-printed parts. To design the shoes, adidas used such tools as motion-capture, pressure plates, foot scans and more to create a library of data related to runner movement and physiology. With this data, the company mapped out “functional zones,” such as those related to cushioning and stability, that were designed into the 3D-printed midsole.

The lattice structure of the midsole is designed to provide the wearer with cushioning and stability. (Image courtesy of adidas.)
The lattice structure of the midsole is designed to provide the wearer with cushioning and stability. (Image courtesy of adidas.)

The result is a lattice structure that can only be manufactured with 3D printing. However, adidas suggests that the durability and elastomeric qualities of the midsole are only possible with Carbon’s materials. The specific material used to make the midsole is a blend of UV curable resin and polyurethane, which is proprietary to adidas and was codeveloped with Carbon. The entire process to print the component takes about 90 minutes, but adidas and Carbon are working to create new machinery that will cut down this time to just 20 minutes.

Eric Liedtke, adidas Group Executive Board member responsible for Global Brands, said of the technology, “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.”

To test the limits of mass production with Carbon’s technology, adidas will be releasing the Futurecraft 4D line in increasingly large batches, beginning with 300 pairs for family and friends in April 2017, then moving up to 5,000 pairs in fall or winter 2017, with a goal of over 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018. Adidas will continue to work with Carbon to develop new material and machinery as the athletics company integrates the technology into its Speedfactory platform, with which it aims to create bespoke products based on individual physiological data.

To learn more about the shoe line, visit the Futurecraft site. To learn more about Carbon, visit the company website.

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