Science

Shoe makers tout the use of 3D printers for quick prototype shoes

By Michael Mayday , Jun 12, 2013 07:00 PM EDT

Both Nike and Adidas are ramping up the use of 3D printers, and each company is spitting out prototype shoes faster than ever before.

The use of 3D printers has helped these shoe manufacturers to design, modify and produce prototype shoes at a faster pace with less cost and manpower than ever before.

In particular, Adidas tells The Financial Times that it has been able to cut its prototype evaluation period from four to six weeks to one or two days. The company was able to cut the number of technicians needed to produce the shoe from 12 employees to two.

"Within six months we were able to go through 12 rounds of prototype iterations that we fully tested, and ultimately we were able to make super dramatic improvements to our products," Shane Kohatsu, innovation director at Nike said to the Financial Times.

Bruce Bradshaw, director of marketing at Stratasys, an Israeli 3D printer manufacturer, told FT that fully printable shoes aren't likely to hit the mainstream market yet, but such footwear - provided 3D printers become faster and more flexible materials could be printed off - could be commonplace in the near future.

Currently 3D printed materials are limited by the size, and the speed, of 3D printers. But, as Business Insider points out, manufacturers stand to save on creating prototypes and low volume equipment parts.

3D printers are already experimenting with soft plastics capable of stretching and bending, but any printed shoe will need to be durable under a variety of situations. That's also why no 3D printed shoe is being sold to consumers.

And it's not just athletic footwear companies which are experimenting with 3D printed shoes. Designers, like Earl Stewart and Campana Brothers, are toying with incorporating 3D printed plastics with top-of-the-line shoes.

Of course, 3D printing has a variety of uses outside of the sartorial. Just recently, doctors saved an baby's life with a 3D printed windpipe, allowing the small boy to breathe.

Airplane manufacturers, too, are finding uses for 3D printed parts, both replacing heavy parts with lighter plastics and creating curved and efficient parts to difficult to make with traditional manufacturing methods.

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