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.
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.