Rapid Prototyping Runners: Nike & Adidas 3D Printed Trainers


As amazing as it sounds, 3D printing of shoes does have a long way to go before clients from all walks of life can experience the customization that it provides. However, not having to break in your new shoes because they hurt your feet does sound amazing, and 3D printing will make it possible.


Currently, several footwear companies are manufacturing shoes with the help of rapid prototyping technology to give users a better experience, including Feetz, United Nude and Nike. Adidas too has jumped the bandwagon of 3D printed shoes in order to give customers that custom made, tailor made feel for them- in store and on the spot.


These shoes, called the 3D Runners are probably not going to change the world of sneakers. The technology is not currently cost effective or scalable enough for the general consumer base of shoes. The price is a hefty $333 is at the same time, an affirmative nod to the rapid prototyping technology that gave the shoes their final form as well as a reminder that these are still not made for the general masses. However, unlike the Nike HyperAdapts- the self-lacing and $700 shoes being launched in early 2016 in limited quantities, the underlying technology seen in Adidas’ new shoes do feel truly amazing and inevitable for the future.


Adidas has released their limited edition version of the 3D printed trainers that have been worn previously by a number of Rio Olympic athletes this year. The 3D Runner has gone on sale in the stores of New York, Tokyo and London- making it the first time that Adidas has incorporated rapid prototyping in the manufacturing of shoes that are available for customer purchase.


Sharing many similarities with the Futurecraft trainers released in 2015, the shoe also has 3D printed soles that mimic the footprints of the runners. The midsole of the shoe is made out of rapid prototyping, creating a web like structure with denser places in areas of higher force, and lower density zones in areas where there will be less force.


The heel counter, which is the plastic insert for reinforcing the heel cup of the shoes, has been incorporated into the midsole. This has eliminated the need for gluing the product or stitching it together. The upper portion of the shoe is made out of the Primeknit technology by Adidas, making it very flexible and lightweight.


First revealed in August at the Rio Olympics by Adidas, a number of athletes including US swimmer Allison Schmitt and British hepthathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill wore them during medal awarding ceremonies. Adidas is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of innovation when it comes to sneakers, which has gained the company a place at the inaugural Dezeen Hot List, ahead of its contender Nike.


Another great reveal by Adidas this year was the Futurecraft Tailored Fibre trainer shoes, which has been made using industrial technique of sewing. This technique is used for manufacturing of car seats. A version of Adidas’ Superstar trainer has also been released which features a seamless upper portion using a single leather piece.


Three things can be noticed once the box containing the 3D Runners is opened. First comes it’s amazing look and impeccable styling. Second is the fact that they are incredibly lightweight. Last but not the least, these shoes cannot survive in a rainstorm. The Primeknit upper portion and the 3D printed lattice work midsoles make the sneakers look like they are made mostly out of air. These two components are the reason why the shoes are this lightweight. The company calls the midsole made with rapid prototyping a ‘3D web structure’.


This refers to the complex geometry of the scaffolding that helps to vary the density based on the place where the foot strikes. This unique feature enables better distribution of impact and better shock absorption. This design also allows better elasticity at the bottom part of the shoes especially when paired with the malleable knit top part. Out of the box, the shoes fit really well unlike most of the running shoes in the market released over the years.


A question one might ask is that, are these shoes worth their hefty price tag? Unless one happens to be particularly enthusiastic about getting limited edition and custom, perhaps these are not worth such a price. However, the 3D Runners are not meant to be seen as a product similar to the company’s other shoe releases- such as the Biosteel fiber kicks, the biodegradable shoe model displayed this year. These 3D Runners are more in the lines of experimental products to showcase what might be possible for a foreseeable future.


As rapid prototyping becomes more prevalent in the manufacturing of different products, it can easily be seen how the technology can someday assist shoemakers to push the envelope on footwear customization and the efficiency of the trainers’. In the meanwhile, they will definitely make the sneaker enthusiasts crave for more such innovations.







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