Your favourite shoe might not look very like those worn by your peers for much longer.

Sports-footwear man­u­fac­tur­ers are in­creas­ingly fo­cus­ing on cus­tomis­able shoes that mould to ev­ery in­di­vid­ual run­ner.

Runner's World (UK) - - Tech Special -

Ger­many – a su­per-hi-tech pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity de­signed to de­liver cut­tingedge man­u­fac­tur­ing and pro­duce more shoes with ‘ad­vanced com­plex­ity in colour, ma­te­ri­als and sizes’. Other Speed­fac­tory fa­cil­i­ties will also be rolled out in other parts of the world, in­clud­ing At­lanta, US. ‘The vi­sion of Speed­fac­tory is about mak­ing cus­tomised and per­son­alised footwear for all peo­ple,’ says Ben Herath, vice pres­i­dent of global de­sign at Adi­das. Speed­fac­tory will start ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of 3D-printed run­ning shoes later this year. And, un­like pre­vi­ously avail­able cus­tom shoes, where you could only choose colour and the odd styling de­tail, this fac­tory will ac­tu­ally build shoes tai­lored to the ex­act shape and size of an in­di­vid­ual run­ner’s feet. Ini­tially, this unique fit process will take place at Adi­das stores, which will have the spe­cialised equip­ment to mea­sure foot shape.

Un­der Ar­mour has simi lar am­bi­tions with its Light­house des ig n a nd ma nuf ac t ur ing cen­tre in Bal­ti­more, US, another fa­cil­ity that’s in­tended to speed up shoe man­u­fac­tur­ing and open cus­tomi­sa­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties. It won’t yet re­lease ex­act de­tails or tim­ing of prod­ucts, but the com­pany does prom­ise an im­mi­nent ex­pan­sion of its 3D footwear plat­form.

New Bal­ance, too, con­tin­ues to work on spe­cialised man­u­fac­tur­ing, but has not yet an­nounced the tim­ing for its plan to have both a cus­tomised run­ning shoe based on biome­chan­i­cal data and a way for this to hap­pen in real time.

Nike teamed with tech­nol­ogy gi­ant Hewlet t- Packard in 2016 for the ‘ im­me­di­ate chal­lenge’ of cre­at­ing a cush­ion­ing sys­tem from 3D- printed ma­te­ri­als, re­ports Nike’s vice pres­i­dent of footwear in­no­va­tion, Tony Bignell. While the re­sults have ap­par­ently proven too stiff and heavy so far, the swoosh has cer­tainly not lost faith in the con­cept: ‘We be­lieve the next fron­tier is to de­liver a 3D ma­te­rial for cush­ion­ing, at scale, to ath­letes around the world,’ says Bignell, al­though there is, so far, no timetable for de­liv­er­ing the prod­uct.

This year HP has also teamed up with insole spe­cial­ist Su­per­feet to roll out 3D-printed in­soles across a hand­ful of run­ning stores in the US. The tech­nol­ogy al­lows run­ners to get a 3D scan of their feet, and uses that data both to sug­gest the op­ti­mum avail­able run­ning shoes and also to build cus­tom-fit Su­per­feet in­soles and re­cov­ery san­dals. In its early stages, the process of pro­duc­ing the in­soles will take a cou­ple of weeks, but Su­per­feet hopes to bring this down to mere hours as the tech­nol­ogy evolves. The com­pany doesn’t have a clear time­line yet for when the tech will be avail­able on this side of the pond, but you can file it un­der ‘com­ing soon’.

So what’s the up­shot of all this in­no­va­tion? We’re stand­ing – or run­ning – at a cru­cial point in the evo­lu­tion of sports footwear. The era of cus­tomi­sa­tion is upon us, and within the next cou­ple of years we’ll all have the op­tion of treat­ing our feet like those of an elite ath­lete, wrap­ping them in cus­tom-de­signed, 3D-printed shoes that, like Cin­derella’s slip­per, will fit us and only us. to slip their feet into cus­tombuilt shoes, made to fit the curves of their feet and their unique biome­chan­i­cal needs? For now, the ma­jor play­ers are tight-lipped on specifics, but all in­di­ca­tors sug­gest we’ll see more op­tions from more brands this year – cus­tomised footwear for in­di­vid­ual run­ners, not just elites.

In the sec­ond half of 2017, Adi­das is step­ping up this level of cus­tomi­sa­tion at its new Speed­fac­tory in Ans­bach,

of cut­ting or in­ject­ing foam, com­pa­nies are now able to en­gi­neer the struc­ture of a shoe us­ing a 3D print­ing process called selec­tive laser sin­ter­ing, which con­structs shoe com­po­nents one layer at a time. This al­lows them to build unique mod­els from the ground up; they can also cre­ate a cus­tom fit more quickly, be­cause a pro­to­type can be tweaked in a mat­ter of hours, rather than the months-long process of build­ing and ship­ping shoes from fac­to­ries in Asia. Nike used this method to speed up pro­duc­tion of pro­to­types in or­der to go through dozens of track-spike it­er­a­tions for elite ath­letes such as sprinter Allyson Felix in her prepa­ra­tions for the Rio Olympics.

New Bal­ance has taken sim­i­lar mea­sures to fine-tune track spikes for its ath­letes. But spikes, of course, don’t ful­fil the needs of most run­ners. In 2016, NB re­leased the Zante Gen­er­ate, the first com­mer­cially avail­able run­ning shoe with a full-length ( but not cus­tomised) 3D-printed mid­sole, al­though it made and sold only 44 pairs.

Adi­das wasn’t far be­hind. Late last year, it re­leased a lim­it­ededi­tion 3D Run­ner with a 3D-printed mid­sole and heel counter. While both of these mod­els came in stan­dard sizes and were heav­ier and stiffer than their EVA coun­ter­parts, they of­fered proof of a new way of thinking about de­sign and ma­te­ri­als.

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