The made-to-measure 3D-printed Adidas shoes of your dreams are not quite here yet, but they have just made one step closer to reality. In collaboration with a small Silicone-Valley start-up called Carbon, the German sportswear giant is planning to mass-produce sports shoes with 3D-printed soles.
Until now, 3D printing for sports shoe soles has taken too long and has been of a quality that is too low to make them commercially viable. The “Digital Light Synthesis” process used by Carbon uses light to shape a liquid resin that is made stable through a heating process. This is very different from the traditional method used by existing 3D printers which build up thin layers of plastic to create their product.
Adidas rivals at Nike have partnered with Hewlett-Packard in the race to be first over the line with 3D-printed soles, but the partners are using the traditional printing process. Even with Hewlett-Packard taking the printing to 10 times faster at half of the cost, Nike has only produced prototypes and a few pairs of sneakers for some of its sponsored athletes. The American partners appear to be nowhere near achieving commercial production.
That’s not to say that the Adidas/Carbon partnership is ready to manufacture thousands of pairs of shoes today. Even with Carbon’s new process, it currently takes an hour and a half to print a single sole, but Adidas believe they can bring that production time down to a much more reasonable 20 minutes each.
The printed sole shoes are slated to hit stores later this year with 5,000 units planned and a further 100,000 pairs to be shipped to stores by the end of 2018. However, a select group of 300 lucky friends and family of Adidas will get their feet into a pair of the “Futurecraft 4-D” shoes this month.
There is no word yet on the price of the new shoes, but last year Adidas sold a limited number of experimental pairs made with the old 3D process for $333. The soles of those shoes were considered overly thick and rigid, but they still sold out almost instantly, so there is no telling how much customers may be willing to spend on the Futurecraft 4-D.
There are a few reasons why you might not want to buy straight away, though. Adidas plan to make some small production runs with sneakers made specifically for individual sports. They are also planning to put out shoes for certain cities, and if this is successful, then the sky could be the limit for customization.
Ultimately, Adidas hope to have stores where you can go in, be measured and design your perfect shoe. The soles will be printed just for you with alterations being made to take account of your weight, movement patterns and the sport you intend to play. It may not quite be here yet, but the made-to-measure sports shoe that everyone can afford is freakily close to being within reach.