Jun 10, 2017 | By Sarah Owen
Apr 18, 2017
By WGSN Insider
As the world inches closer to a William Gibson-esque post-human society, the 3D printing wars are heating up. And in case you missed it, adidas claimed centre stage last week with the unveiling of its newest product, the Futurecraft 4D, a sneaker where the midsole is manufactured by a process called “Digital Light Synthesis,” a technological advancement created by Silicon Valley-backed 3D printing start-up “Carbon,” that utilises light and oxygen to craft polymers from resin particles (which is truly beyond the scope of this blog post).
With December’s 3D Runner, a limited edition $333 running shoe with a 3D printed midsole of which adidas made an indeterminable amount, adidas jumped head-first into the deep end of the additive manufacturing swimming pool. The products have been intriguing, certainly, but I think we can all agree that none of them reach Asimov levels of science fiction novelty. Most interesting, however, are the incremental advancements made by these progressive footwear companies in the short year since releasing consumer products to the public.
Rewinding back to March of last year, Under Armour debuted 96 pairs of the UA Architech – a running shoe whose 3D printed lattice midsole and upper made it the first of its kind to hit the market.
Just one month later, New Balance would release its own 3D printed model to be produced with an end user in mind: the Zante Generate, which New Balance curiously claimed to be the first performance running shoe to feature a 3D printed midsole (despite UA’s release one month prior). The New England heritage brand produced 44 pairs and sold them exclusively at its Experience Store in Boston for $400. Finally, just a few months before adidas’ 3D Runner, Reebok joined the fold with its 3D printed outsole and exterior lacing system. Utilising its proprietary “Liquid Factory” technology, by which Reebok uses a liquid substance to essentially draw, for lack of a better word, a single rubberised sculpture, the sneaker giant created 300 pairs of Liquid Speeds, a performance model that retailed under $200.
But that was 2016.
Back to the present, adidas has stated that it will immediately release 300 pairs of Futurecraft 4Ds for friends and family with a subsequent 5000 pairs at retail for A/W 17/18. And the German athletics conglomerate did not stop there. With plans to ship over 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018, the adidas-Carbon partnership is the first sign of scale with respect to the nascent manufacturing technology.
This is tremendous. In the case of any fledgling technology, there is always a tipping point that leads to the kind of speed needed for eventual proliferation, which brings about decreases in cost and finally eventual domination. And with domination comes a brave new world. In the case of 3D printing, that world includes widespread use of more sustainable materials and manufacturing so precise so as to cut down on waste by an astronomical number.
With Nike on the bench – maybe they haven’t even left the locker room yet – one has to query: what do they have up their sleeve? Whether it’s something groundbreaking or nothing at all, 2017 promises to be an exciting year for this dynamic and ever-evolving technology.
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