After getting some interesting feedback from all areas of the footwear design and development industry, I thought it would be good to perhaps share some of my own, and my circle of insiders, insights on the adidas Futurecraft 3D project, spearheaded by Eric Liedtke and Paul Gaudio, the chief marketing officer and creative director, respectively.
First off, before some of you guys/hype blogs go off on a tangent proclaiming adidas has “done it”, “they’ve cracked it”, hold your easily excited hype horses fellas, they haven’t done the hardest part yet. They themselves have even said this only marks a statement of intent for the concept.
Believe it or not, producing a complex 3D printed flexible sole, placing it on a shoe and making a sweet ass video is the easy part. Though perhaps not at the same level of complexity, myself and my agency currently use flexible 3D printing a lot to produce early development sole samples (see – Mahabis) for both sport footwear as well as casual. It’s a brilliant way to utilize a technology that cuts timelines dramatically and allows for greater innovation in general at an affordable price. What I’m basically saying is, 3D printing functional soles is not new, especially not at an early, proof of concept stage.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on adidas or making this some type of awkward 3D printed dick measuring contest, because I love and have a lot of respect for what they’re doing here. I’m merely stating facts. I also massively suspect this is more posturing than production, more trying to stay relevant and looking cool rather than actually bringing anything out to the public in the near future (at-least not on a mass scale). And to be honest, I’m cool with that. They’ve been doing brilliantly lately and this is exactly the type of marketing they need.
But let’s be real, the actual hard part, the part I’d be interested in seeing, is how they would actually make this concept a commercially viable product. That’s the stumbling block here, and not the actual print.
“I think you can absolutely expect affordable fully 3-D printed shoes. What holds that back is companies being vertically integrated with themselves. You’re not getting price breaks—the industry isn’t set up at the moment for 3-D printing on an industrial scale.” – Francis Bitonti
What really sparked off this article was this video –
As entertaining as the video was, it left me with a lot more questions then answers. They’re planning on printing and making the shoes in-store? So you’ll need to hire a full-time technician to work the printer, correct? (trust me, it’s not as easy as just simply pressing the ‘print’ button), how are you going to attach the sole to the upper in-store? Who are they trying to target with these shoes? runners, or sneakerheads?
If adidas ever were to actually bring these 3D printed soles to the mass market, there are a lot of obstacles they would need to address (both structurally and functionally). Some being obvious, others not so much. Here are what I believe to be a few of them, as well as a few arguments both for and against 3D printing –
I’ve read some people arguing that it’s just not viable to do this. That it’s so cheap to just make soles via traditional moulds that it makes no sense the 3D print them. Well, in this particular scenario, I believe that argument is invalid. Individualized sole’s are the core idea off this concept, and this is something you straight up can’t that do through conventional moulding, at-least no where near as cheaply or quickly as 3D printing can (imagine creating new moulds for every different customer?).
Though I’m not arguing that 3D printing is viable for the footwear industry just yet, it does have it’s cost advantages. A massive one being that you don’t have to ship the soles all they way from Asia. This not only saves you the shipping cost, but it also saves you time, not to mention your carbon footprint is dramatically decreased.
From a production/material stand-point, Selective Laser Sintering is an additive process. This is major because this means you don’t waste material, because you only print what you need, and re-use the rest. You also don’t have to pay a storage facility to house all your soles, because you only print what and when you need to.
Of-course 3D printing is still extremely costly. For one you’re going to have to pay for a technician to over see a print of this complexity, and it takes a long time to print (I don’t know the exact times for Selective Laser Sintering, but it’ll be hours, not minutes, that’s for sure), then there’s also the raw material cost itself (even if you’re being extremely efficient with the usage to wastage ratio).
On the cost side of things, there’s still a lot that needs to be figured out, especially if adidas wants to print in-store….which brings me to my next point…
Originally when I wrote about this concept a couple day’s back, I imagined that they might have to create some type of 3D printing factory in order to make this a possibility. After watching the above video however, it seems the concept would be that a customer would be able to actually walk into a special adidas store and have their soles printed, and the shoe created, in that same store. This would mean they’d essentially have to create a mini factory in the back of the every store this was available in. Machinery would be needed to not only print the sole, but to cement the sole to the upper, not to mention a full time technician would be needed to monitor the print, especially one of this high level of complexity. I wouldn’t even want to begin to imagine what a pain in the ass that would be.
I’m just going to assume that the guys over at adi have figured, or have ideas, of an ingenious way to make this possible. I know they were in talks about creating a fully automated shoe factory and were trying to utilize car manufacturing machinery to aid in certain areas, so maybe they’ll use this somehow? We’ll see (hopefully). I still think creating an off-shoot, mini 3D printing factory at one of their local factories would be the best way to roll this concept out. If the timelines associated with printing the sole’s are, let’s say very conservatively 6-8 hours, you may as well have the shoe’s printed off-site and have them sent to the customer.
A video posted by MrBailey™ (@mrbailey_) on
This is a video of a flexible 3D printed heal counter I was playing around with some time ago. As you can see, I broke it during the video… Of-course, I’m sure this is a very different material then what’s being used on the Freecraft 3D soles. But it does beg the question; how durable will these be? If someone’s going to pay a decent sum for a pair of individualized soles to run in, they’re going to have to last and maintain functionality for a good amount of time.
Though honestly this is really the least of my worries, because if there’s one thing adidas usually excels in, it’s functionality.
Then of-course, there’s still the issue of what you’re going to do if you step in dog 💩💩💩.
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