It seems as though additive manufacturing (AM) printing has received an inordinate amount of attention from shoe manufacturers. Certainly the technology can’t (yet) compete with more traditional types of production when it comes to making large numbers of shoes. Sometimes, though, the flexibility offered by AM is more highly prized than its speed.
Under Armour (UA) has taken a liking to AM specifically for its flexibility, and is set to release a limited run of its UA Architect 3D-printed shoes this year on March 18. The run will consist of 96 shoes as a nod to UA’s 20th anniversary, and will feature shoes with 3D-printed midsoles and uppers. Expect to pay a premium for novelty, as each pair of sneakers will be priced at $299.99.
Why AM for shoes? According to the company, the lattice weave structure on the heel of the shoe would only be financially possible to produce using 3D printing. Creating the same combination of support and cushion using traditional injection molding would require a massive investment into new tools. The company is betting AM will speed up and make 3D printing a viable alternative to current methods of production.
AM also offers the potential to fit each shoe to its owner. Shoes could be made to fit every bump and angle of a customer by making a 3D scan of their foot. Not only would that sort of fit provide comfort not seen outside handmade footwear, it could also be used to provide critical support for people with high arches, flat feet, or a variety of other podiatric issues.
Along with fit and comfort, AM offers the last word in customization. Want a shoe in blue with your husband’s name printed in gold along the sides? AM would allow it. Customers could shop online with light CAD programs that allow them to build a custom shoe from preset building blocks.
UA intends to unveil additional 3D-printed shoes later this year, and will be monitoring sales and feedback to determine how to best leverage AM. The short-term benefits will continue to be seen in limited runs, but ideas generated by AM designs will begin to bleed over into standard shoe lines as well. UA foresees a day when every shoe is produced by a 3D printer, rather than sewn together.