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Adidas, Carbon Scale 3D Manufacturing

In what could eventually be the largest-scale roll out of 3D printing for manufacturing consumer products, California-based 3D print company Carbon has partnered with Adidas to develop both new materials and designs for athletic shoe midsoles. The company claims it will quickly move from printing a few hundred to several thousand pairs of the FutureCraft 4D shoes, and by next year production is expected to hit 100,000+ and potentially much more.

Carbon helped Adidas create a new printable elastomer that allowed the shoe company to obtain the right physical properties and color tinting for the midsoles. Carbon altered its own EPU 40 material and iterated more than 150 different formulations to get the right mechanical properties.

The new midsoles feature variable physical properties across the structure to improve performance for different sports, a design concept that Carbon says would have been impossible using traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or compression molding.

3D printing also allowed for rapid design iteration, and Carbon says the company went through 50 different design iterations because there was no need for tooling or prototyping. Carbon set up an incubator factory at its headquarters to validate the print system and materials, including creating print and post-processing solution.

“With Digital Light Synthesis, we venture beyond limitations of the past, unlocking a new era in design and manufacturing,” said Eric Liedtke, Adidas Group executive board member responsible for global brands. “One driven by athlete data and agile manufacturing processes. By charting a new course for our industry, we can unleash our creativity—transforming not just what we make, but how we make it.”

You can read a detailed case study on the Carbon website.

Eventually, Adidas will be able to print custom midsoles tailored to individual customers. Using Carbon’s printers at small manufacturing centers, the company can localize production for these custom shoes. Adidas also opened a pilot Speedfactory in Herzogenaurach, Germany, and has plans to open a similar facility in Atlanta.

Currently, it takes roughly 90 minutes to print a single midsole, but the two companies are collaborating to create new printers that would cut that down to 20 minutes.

Carbon’s continuous printers use laser light (Digital Light Synthesis) to built the structure.

Adidas will release 300 pairs of the FutureCraft shoes this month, followed by 4,000 pairs for retail in the fall and winter.

Source: MIT Technology Review

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