3D printing in footwear: a way to revolutionize the industry?

3D printing is being incorporated into more and more industries, and fashion is no exception. Technology opens up new possibilities and creative solutions. Something we've seen used in a variety of ways, from jewelry to apparel design. There is an area where additive manufacturing technologies are evolving at a tremendous speed, which is why today we have investigated a little more in 3D printing in footwear, an industry that could change radically with the establishment of 3D technologies.

Shoes are complex items to produce, often time consuming, making it a highly specialized field. Thus, 3D printing is the perfect tool to facilitate the process. Although there is still a long way to go before 3D printed components are really integrated into mass production, companies like Adidas, New Balance, Reebok… have already made great strides to advance technology in their shoe production.

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Development of the footwear industry

The craft of creating footwear has been around for centuries, and for a long time everything was done by hand. Lyman Blake, the American who invented the first shoe sewing machine in 1856, which was perfected in 1864. This led to the industrial manufacturing of shoes. Now, 3D printing in footwear is looking to take it to the next level: greater customization at less time and cost.

As in many other industries, technology began as a tool for prototyping. Silvia Fado, CEO of her brand and shoe designer, explains; that 3D printing in the footwear industry is: "Mainly in the creation of prototypes to show customers the volume before spending money on the manufacture of molds, which is very cost-effective and on time." However, it is slowly rolling out in other areas as well.

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Development of the footwear industry

The craft of creating footwear has been around for centuries, and for a long time everything was done by hand. Lyman Blake, the American who invented the first shoe sewing machine in 1856, which was perfected in 1864. This led to the industrial manufacturing of shoes. Now, 3D printing in footwear is looking to take it to the next level: greater customization at less time and cost.

As new techniques and materials are developed, new possibilities also open up. Silvia, for example, likes to play with this too. He explains: “I like to use technology for production. Appropriate materials are always used for footwear, greater resistance and strength are tried during the prototyping process ”. It is clear that it can help in prototyping, but also in tuning and customization at all times. And in the case of Silvia Fado, it helps when producing limited series that innovate in form and design.

She's not the only designer exploring the possibilities outside of prototyping. Another key player is Iris van Herpen, who has pushed the limits of fashion with the use of new technologies. He has created exquisite collections that combine 3D printing and traditional methods. In 2013, he collaborated with shoe designer Rem D. Koolhaas, founder of United Nude to create 3D printed shoes, resembling tree roots. Koolhaas explains: “Iris is very dramatic with her concepts and the shapes she wanted were only possible with 3D printing. They are almost like a sculpture on your feet, imitating nature. The possibilities offered by technology is one of the reasons why many designers and brands have started using 3D printing in footwear.

 

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The growing market for 3D printing in footwear

The footwear sector is already a huge industry that encompasses a wide variety of materials and products, from footwear for men and women, to specialized products. In 2018, the industry generated more than $ 106 billion globally. Most of the companies working in the industry still use traditional methods. However, there is a growing market for the implementation of 3D printing, and especially in the sportswear industry, with brands such as Nike, Under Armor and Reebok.

Some minor brands like ECCO have been working on expanding the use of 3D printing in finished products. However, Adidas is at the forefront of the industry in this area. As a leader, it appears to be one of the only brands that truly takes technology to a new level of mass production. They recently launched their sneaker: the Alphaedge 4D, which mixes traditional manufacturing with 3D printing. This sneaker was produced in its ongoing collaboration with startup 3D Carbon.At the end of 2018, Adidas unveiled 100,000 pairs of its new shoes and plans to push the technology further this 2019 with the goal of producing millions in the next year.

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"We have a really aggressive plan to scale this," said James Carnes, vice president of strategy creation at Adidas. " Keep going; “We are scaling a production. The plan will position us as the largest (world) producer of 3D printed products.

Shoes developed entirely with 3D technologies

Fully 3D printed shoes still seem to have a long way to go. But some brands have been developing their own products in that direction. Olivier van Herpt, known primarily for his implementation of 3D printing on traditional crafts such as ceramics, has also created his own shoes, to make a product that conforms to the exact measurements of each user's feet. Using 3D scanning and 3D printing, it created a unique, lightweight and strong open structure. Taking to shoes manufactured locally and made for the individual to adapt to the shape of each foot and its differences.

 

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New products like those from Nicholas Unis that are entering the market with their own 3D printed shoes. The young man studies Finance and Accounting at Pennsylvania State University, but has always had an interest in footwear. This led him to launch UnisBrands. That initially it was a reseller of the main footwear brands, now it has been changed to customization; "Addition of materials, colors and graphics based on customer needs." This new initiative seemed to grow rapidly and he has followed through with it.

“I made a shoe with a great rapper: Riff Raff. We put the custom 3D shoe on eBay, and it fetched over a million dollars, "he continues:" Nike sent us a letter demanding that we remove the listing and cancel the sale. I had made the custom upper part of an Air-Jordan 5. ”As Nike claimed that it had violated copyright in the sale of this custom shoe, they ended up canceling the sale. But this led the company in a new direction and Nicholas made a decision; “Create my own footwear brand focused on customization. The best way to think about doing this was to use 3D printing. " Now the UnisBrands create their own footwear and, in addition to some minor parts, 3D prints the entire shoe.

 

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3D printing appears to be disrupting the global footwear industry to some extent. According to Silvia Fado: "It is certainly influencing the industry." She specifies; "Especially in the big sportswear brands that are constantly innovating." A point of view endorsed by Nicholas Unis. He agrees, that it is not something that is happening now, but will most likely come in the future. In this way it is clear that technology is advancing.

For now, designers primarily use 3D printing for prototyping and customization, however it ranges from high fashion fashions and sneakers to insoles and specialized equipment. Not only does it bring new production methods and waste reduction, but it can also optimize the production time of each part in the long run. All valuable assets for companies that design and produce shoes for the world market. The question, however, remains; Is it worth it for consumers?

impresión 3D en el calzado3D printing in footwear: pros and cons

At least at the moment, on the smallest scale, there are still some difficulties to be solved within 3D printing in footwear. The first is the research and development stages, which are still demanding at this time, especially for smaller companies. There may also be problems such as printing speed at this point as printing time is still required depending on the 3D technology used.

However, there is also more than one silver lining. In addition to the eco-friendly approach to making the shoes, it is easier to make custom-made products. This leads to a finished product that is unique to the consumer. A shoe that fits your exact needs. This can provide a superior product in fit and style. And most importantly, technology also gives the designer more freedom and can give the consumer looking for a more exclusive and modern shoe.

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