While a few companies have released 3D printed shoes previously, the New Balance Zante Generate is the first 3D-printed running sneaker to be made commercially available. Unfortunately, if you have always wanted a pair of 3D printed shoes I wouldn’t get too excited, because New Balance is only going to be releasing forty-four pairs of the limited edition sneaker. The limited edition release is a tribute to the company’s owner Jim Davis and his forty-fourth year owning the Boston-based shoe company. The forty-four pairs of the Zante Generate were only made available at newbalance.com and in Boston’s New Balance Experience Store with a price tag of $400.
The Zante Generate was first announced back in November as a collaboration with 3D printing industry leader 3D Systems. The shoe was first shown off in January at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at 3D Systems’ booth. New Balance joins other athletic shoe manufacturers like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour in exploring 3D technology to create the perfect shoe that can be customized to fit each wearer’s unique foot shape. While the 3D printing process is still too slow and expensive for mass production, it’s only a matter of time before 3D printed shoes are the norm, and now New Balance can say that they were first out of the gate.
“New Balance is at the forefront of 3D printing and has been utilizing this exciting and innovative technology to customize product for our athletes for a number of years. Our unique position as both a manufacturer and retailer allows us to bring the world’s first 3D printed running midsole to market. The Zante Generate demonstrates the strength of New Balance design and innovation and will allow consumers to own a piece of running technology history,” said President and CEO of New Balance, Robert DeMartini.
While the upper half of the Zante Generate is made using traditional materials like an engineered mesh, the midsole is entirely 3D printed using a selective laser sintering process. The sole is printed using 3D Systems DuraForm TPU Elastomer material which results in a highly flexible but durable printed part. The midsole was designed to be strong enough to fully support the foot and resist day to day wear and tear, while being soft enough to comfortably conform to the foot. The internal honeycomb structure of the midsole includes hundreds of tiny cells that provide just the right amount of support and cushion.
The complicated geometry of the Zante Generate’s midsole would be impossible to create using traditional manufacturing processes and was only possible using the SLS 3D printer. Compared to the manufacturing of standard shoes, the 3D printed New Balance sneakers are actually quite labor intensive. The process of 3D printing the soles takes several hours to complete; once completed, each sole needs to be removed from the powder bed and individually cleaned and post processed. The soles are then sent to the manufacturing facility in New Balance’s Boston headquarters for assembly and finishing, where it can then be sold to one of forty-four lucky people.
The Zante Generate is obviously just a proof of concept at this point, but it is proof that 3D printed materials can create products just as strong and durable as traditional manufactured parts, while enjoying unique, high tech 3D printed features. I haven’t seen any indication that the Zante Generate will be custom made for each individual wearer, but that is obviously where 3D printing is going to take shoe design in the future. Detailed 3D scans of a person’s foot could easily be used to manufacture a midsole that has been optimized for their needs. It looks like the Zante Generate has already been sold out, so we should be hearing reviews of the shoe coming out in the press in the next few days. You can find out more about New Balance’s 3D printed shoe here. Is this something you’d like to have? Discuss in the 3D printed New Balance shoes forum over at 3DPB.com.