As they face higher demands from their customers to create more versatile footwear, sportswear companies all over the world have found themselves looking at 3D printing much closer recently. Companies like New Balance, Nike and Adidas have all explored using 3D printing to create shoes that are optimized for highly active users that include 3D printed soles and components. But athletic wear designer and manufacturer Under Armour has announced a new shoe that is thinking beyond even the 3D printer and also used powerful new 3D design software from Autodesk.
The Under Armour Architech is a highly advanced, multi-purpose athletic shoe that was designed specifically for customers who regularly perform a wide range of exercises and activities. The hope is that this new shoe will eliminate the need for active people to need more than one type of shoe, and provide support and cushioning no matter what activity they’re participating in. The Architech has a latticed, 3D printed midsole that is as lightweight and comfortable as a traditional athletic shoe, but also adds the type of stability usually reserved for more specialized shoes. The shoe’s 3D printed sole was created at Under Armour’s Baltimore headquarters and their state-of-the-art Innovation Lab. Under Armour claims that the Architech offers users the “ultimate stability and cushioning” during workouts and activity.
The 3D printed midsole was not the work of a designer using a standard CAD program, but was actually the result of 3D design software company Autodesk and their new generative design software package, Autodesk Within. The software was created to capitalize on modern computers ability to quickly and efficiently process complex algorithms to optimize the product design process. Within simply needs the user to enter in the parameters under which they need an object designed. The object’s maximum weight, the amount of stress the object needs to be able to resist, the required durability and any size or form function restrictions. All of these needs are quickly compared, and Within begins producing lattice designs that address all of the structural needs of the object.
The Within program is a self-learning algorithm that uses its failures to make fewer mistakes on future designs. As the program creates concepts, it tests the stress limits and functionality of each one. If a design fails, it is discarded and the program learns why it failed and prevents the same failure in future iterations of the design. Within can go through hundreds of possibilities before arriving on the optimal shoe, which can then be tested by the shoe designers in real world settings. If the result isn’t the ideal solution, they simply need to tweak the parameters to address the weakness and Within simply goes back to work.
Autodesk Within, just released last year, is already being used to generatively design everything from medical implants to bridges and removing human error from the process. If fact, it is likely that design software like Within is the future of design itself due to its ability to produce a functional design in only a fraction of the time needed using traditional design processes. Currently the program, and others like it, primarily produce lattice structures because they often produce the best structure versus weight ratio. But generative design is likely to expand to all types of design scenarios and eventually will be built in to basic CAD software itself. The hope is that one day the design process could be virtually automated, and Within is just the first step in that direction.
The new Under Armour Architech is due to be released for sale on the Under Armour website on March 18th and in the retail store located at their Baltimore corporate headquarters. The high tech shoes will sell for $300 a pair, but if you want one for yourself you better hurry. The Architech is only a limited edition prototype shoe, and Under Armour will only be selling 96 pairs because of the slow process of 3D printing the soles. However it is very likely that generative design and 3D printing will begin making their way into future Under Armor shoe designs. Discuss in the 3D Printed Training Shoe forum over at 3DPB.com.