adidas and Nike are never usually far from delving into similar technology within their footwear. Generally the winner in these battles is dictated by which of the two behemoth brands has executed best. Right now, in the realm of 3D printing, and despite adi’s recently revealed Freecraft 3D Project, this edge is leaning in favor of Nike and their recent acquisition of a 3D printing patent.
The biggest issue with 3D printing is the means in which it can be legitimately brought into commercialized production. How will large brands create commercially viable, 3D printed footwear with all the massive, unresolved issues it brings? Well, it seems Nike may have made the first step. They’ve made an extremely well thought out, strategic move and gotten a patent for part of the trickiest aspects of shoe production; attaching the upper, to the sole.
Filed in September 2012, the patent was just officially granted to Nike (as of October 13th, 2015 – eerily close to adidas’ announcement of the Freecraft 3D project…coincidence?). The patent is specifically for “automated strobel printing.” There are many different ways in which a shoe can be lasted, strobel construction being a favorite for more sportier shoes, given it’s support & flexibility. Basically, this patent could be massively important, because this is how and where the shoe’s upper attaches to the sole. The patent stipulates that a machine would scan the strobel design into a computer and print sewing guidelines onto it, based on the specifics needed for that shoe.
This isn’t 3D printing an entire shoe, or sole, and it may not sound like much, but this would be a major step forward in incorporating 3D printing into mass footwear production. In the application Nike has expressed that due to current technology, “the number of shoe pieces being added has increased, requiring increasingly complicated manufacturing steps to produce shoes.” 3D printing part of the strobel construction would reduce human labor for Nike, though not completely eliminate it, as the upper would still need to be attached to the strobel piece and midsole (though adidas may have the answer for that if they’ve made any movement on their fully-automated factories).
This is a very real, first, small (but very important) step in 3D printing becoming part of commercialized footwear. We’ll see who makes the next move, #ChessNotCheckers.
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