We got to step into the future last week. Literally. For the future of footwear will undoubtedly belong to 3D printed shoes, as previewed by adidas with their first attempt at custom fit 3D printed footwear: Futurecraft 3D.
The Futurecraft 3D was born out of a simple challenge within adidas: “create a world-first footwear product using the latest in 3D printing”. Made in partnership with 3D printing specialists, Materialise, the prototype is the first of the company’s ‘Futurecraft series’, an exploratory skunkworks initiative within the adidas formed to formulate novel solutions for fit and performance.
From Eric Liedtke, Executive Board Member of adidas AG:
Futurecraft 3D is a prototype and a statement of intent. We have used a one-of-its-kind combination of process and material in an entirely new way. Our 3D-printed midsole not only allows us to make a great running shoe, but also to use performance data to drive truly bespoke experiences, meeting the needs of any athlete.
adidas and Materialise turned to modified thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), a material known for durable elasticity, high tear strength, and abrasion resistance for 3D printing their innovative latticed work sole. Laser sintering – where a laser is used to seal powder together into a 3D object – allowed their team a quick two week turnaround from prototyping to actual model on feet for testing. The resulting sole is intricate, yet airy.
adidas Footwear Development Manager Daniel Cocking notes the technology isn’t just an end to itself, with the footwear company envisioning the 3D printed technology becoming the possible foundation for something more fitting of the future: “Now that we had the prototype, we started to dream big. We all have different foot shapes, and we all have different running gaits. This makes buying a running shoe a tricky journey. By harnessing 3D printing technology, the ultimate goal of true product customization is closer than ever before. It’s a promise of a fast approaching revolutionary in-store experience, where your style of running could be analyzed and used to create a perfectly tailored functional product.”
The dream is to one day have customers step onto a treadmill and have their gait analyzed and a carbon copy 3D footscan of the runner’s own footprint reproduced accordingly.
So how do these future-crafted running shoes prototypes actually feel? The upper is supportive and snug, with a surprisingly stiff midsole revealing itself while at a standstill. The responsive nature of the TPU material only becomes evident itself only in movement, with a cushioned foot strike more on the stiffer end of the spectrum felt during short sprints. Our preview pair – prototypes – were not custom fit for my size 9 feet, but felt lightweight and ready for mileage, satisfyingly familiar to many of the previous adidas running shoes I’ve run in. Admittedly, considering the limited production and preliminary design of these shoes, I didn’t put heavy mileage on them (yet).
I can only hope one day soon we’ll all be running in shoes where 3D printing eliminates concerns about fit, support, and pressure points. The adidas Futurecraft 3D is definitely a promising start.