Adidas Unveils Futurecraft 4D, The World’s First Mass-Produced 3D-Printed Shoe

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Adidas just announced what could be a shoe industry game-changer. Futurecraft 4D, their newest sneaker, has a 3D-printed midsole and would be the first of its kind to be mass produced.

The Adidas Futurecraft 4D, previewed to media Thursday night in New York, will be the first performance sneaker using Carbon’s “Digital Light Synthesis” manufacturing technology. The Silicon Valley–based company creates 3D products by blasting liquid with light, which Adidas says will allow it to operate on “a completely different manufacturing scale.”

The shoes themselves have a slightly different midsole than their predecessors, which protrudes horizontally, increasing the visual 3D effect. It’s created using a process known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production, in which the design is essentially pulled out of a vat of liquid polymer resin, and fixed into its desired shape using ultraviolet light.

According to Joseph DeSimone, Carbon co-founder and chief executive, it’s faster and more adaptable than traditional additive printing, and can make mass-production 3D printing a reality.

Carbon is financed by funds set up by Google and General Electric, and say its methods allow for companies to go from design to product faster than ever. They also claim the final materials are more robust and flexible than traditional injection-molded plastics.

One of the attractions in using 3D printing for sneaker production is that it allows the creation of smaller batches of shoes. These could be small runs tailored for particular events or location, or they could even be expensive one-offs — molded to suit an individual’s foot-shape or gait. The downside is that it will take time, as Adidas and Carbon have to bring down the costs of production before these shoes are anything near affordable.

We’ve seen 3D-printed soles, self-lacing technology, and even shoes that can order pizza, but at the end of the day, what really matters is if the shoes are comfortable and qualify for performance use.

Last year’s 3D-printed Adidas sneaker arrived in very limited numbers. For this follow-up to the 3D Runner, and because Adidas isn’t leaping two-footed into the 3D-printed future just yet, it has produced 300 pairs this month for friends and family, before releasing 5,000 pairs at retail this October. That won’t be the end, either, as Adidas plans to scale up projects to more than 100,000 pairs made with the Digital Light Synthesis method by the end of 2018.

The cost of a pair of Futurecraft 4Ds is not yet known, but Adidas says it will be in the “premium” price range.

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