The brief was simple: “create a world-first footwear product using the latest in 3D printing”. At least it sounded simple. 3D printing itself isn’t new, it’s older than I am, but its progress is allowing us to dream even bigger. To dream of a future without design limitation and truly customized sports shoes.

Two weeks from concept to prototype

While the brief sounded simple, the product journey was a little more complex. The project had humble beginnings, an idea born from a close-knit creative team who are constantly seeking new ways of creating exciting product; I was brought on board to help make this idea a reality.

I worked closely with our partner Materialise who eventually would print our running shoe. After some time looking through some emerging materials to use, we discovered a truly perfect and unique material: modified thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). After all, a footwear performance product needs to live up to its promise: performance! TPU can deliver exactly that. It’s brand-new in the marketplace and convinced us with its durable elasticity as well as high tear strength and abrasion resistance. We quickly applied this material to the most suitable printing method – Laser Sintering, a process that is so accurate that we could create almost any design.

Since 3D printing is so fast in prototyping stages, within 2 weeks I had run in the shoe myself.

See also: How 3D design is changing the way we work

10 km later we came together as a creation team to review. It was really only then, a moment we sat in awe of a virtually unharmed pair of 3D-printed shoes, that we realized the enormous potential we had on our hands. If we could find the right design to match with this groundbreaking material, the impact would be revolutionary.

Bringing a concept from the screen...
into the powder...
and finally...
to life.
You need a team with experts from different functions and backgrounds...
when dreaming big.
01 of

Tapping our collective expertise to overcome challenges

While the first results were encouraging, we were facing some challenges on the way. I sometimes wished it was as simple as pressing the print button on the machine. It wasn’t. We found that stiffness of the midsole varied significantly as a result of very minor process or design changes. We began a thorough investigation into the process parameters required to achieve the perfect cushioning. For something of this complexity, we needed to involve the best minds in the company. We brought in experts from over 15 different teams to give their views, among them adidas’ own engineering function, the FUTURE team, that added significantly with a complex range of test methods and technical support.

The result of our combined effort: a world-first running shoe that is impossible to create in any other way.

Print, don't copy: an outstanding running shoe with a unique 3D-printed midsole.
Print, don’t copy: an outstanding running shoe with a unique 3D-printed midsole.

Start dreaming

Now that we had the prototype, we started to dream big. We all have different foot shapes, and we all have different running gaits. This makes buying a running shoe a tricky journey. By harnessing 3D printing technology, the ultimate goal of true product customization is closer than ever before. It’s a promise of a fast approaching revolutionary in-store experience, where your style of running could be analyzed and used to create a perfectly tailored functional product. This opportunity eliminates the anxiety of buying a new running shoe, knowing that there is no other shoe in the world that is better fitted with the right characteristics for you. I believe the promise of 3D printing isn’t far away from being fulfilled on a larger scale so it’s great being part of a team that is getting ahead of the game.

We have taken quantum leaps in our knowledge of the area and I cannot wait for your reaction when you see it for the first time!

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by Eddie Kent 08.10.2015
Great article Dan, very impressed with this technology, it is the future of design.
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by Niklas 08.10.2015
Daniel, this is realy sick! I just graduated in Engineering and Love the idea and upcoming possibilities with this technology!
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by Colin 08.10.2015
I for one welcome that day when all our clothes and shoes can be 3D printed. To state the obvious, it will be more interesting to see how technology like this impacts things in the developing world.
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by Josh 17.10.2015
I got in touch with this technology through my study of Human-Computer-Interaction and it's fascinating to see what potential it has when it comes to realizing an literally forming an idea. Love it!
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by gigo 14.12.2015
We use 3d printing for a lot of things, like for prototype or for printing pieces of bigger structures. Love it!
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by George Reynolds 18.12.2015
I play a lot of soccer and I am tired of the lower part of the boot separating from the upper part of the boot after only a few months due to failure of the adhesive bonding between the two parts. I thought it would be a good idea to design a new soccer boot where the lower and upper parts of the boot all one part, with no adhesive required. This would result in much greater durability of the product. If it is possible to 3D print a running shoe then why not a soccer boot.
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by Kelli 14.10.2016
As an employee, this technology and forward thinking into our future as a company excites me. I can't wait to see the actual product in stores! #Teamadidas!
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