Adidas Unveils the ‘Futurecraft’ of 3D-Printed Footwear

Adidas has teamed with Silicon Valley-based startup Carbon to develop a sneaker partially fabricated using additive manufacturing as the first product of its next-generation Futurecraft 4D brand.

Global footwear company Adidas has teamed with Silicon Valley-based startup Carbon to develop a sneaker partially fabricated using a new manufacturing method that uses light and oxygen as the first product of its next-generation Futurecraft 4D brand.

The shoe represents a new direction in digital footwear creation that eliminates traditional prototyping or molding and will allow for better customization using athlete data and agile manufacturing, according to the German-based company.

Futurecraft 4D is Adidas’ first application of Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) process, which the footwear manufacturer used to make the product’s midsoles. The process—driven by Carbon’s patented Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) photochemical technology—is a next-generation AM process that balances light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts, according to the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup.

 

Adidas Unveils the ‘Futurecraft’ of 3D-Printed Footwear
Adidas has teamed with Silicon Valley-based startup Carbon to develop a sneaker partially fabricated using additive manufacturing as the first product of its next-generation Futurecraft 4D brand. The midsoles of the sneaker were produced using light and oxygen through a proprietary process Carbon invented. (Image source: Adidas)

 

CLIP works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin, according to the company. The process projects a sequence of UV images, from which the part solidifies and the build platform rises. In this way, a careful balance of light and oxygen shapes programmable resins into completed parts.

Carbon’s DLS process solves one of the biggest hindrances to creating commercial products using additive manufacturing, according to the startup. That is, 3D-printed parts are notoriously inconsistent because their mechanical properties vary depending on the direction the parts were printed due to the layer-by-layer approach.

Instead, the process allows designers to go directly from design to production, allowing for unprecedented ability to create “previously impossible designs,” said Dr. Joseph DeSimone, Carbon co-founder and CEO.

“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,” he said.

Indeed, while Adidas’ rivals—including Nike and New Balance—have used 3D printing to make prototypes and for some custom footwear, until now an athletic-footwear company has not used the process for a commercially available product.

Parts printed with DLS, however, are much more like injection-molded parts, producing consistent and predictable mechanical properties, DeSimone said. The parts also are solid on the inside.

The process also overcomes other shortcomings of conventional additive manufacturing methods, such as low production speed and scale, poor surface quality, and color and material restrictions, said Eric Liedtke, Adidas group executive board member responsible for global brands.

“Carbon’s unique programmable resin platform offers unparalleled performance with respect to material durability and elastomeric responsiveness,” he said. “This new take on manufacturing enables Adidas designers, sports scientists and engineers to bring even the most intricate designs of their imagination into physical reality.”

Adidas plans to scale up production of the Futurecraft 4D sneakers this year and continue to use Carbon’s technology in the future for other commercial products.


Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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