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3D printed footwear seems to be almost constantly in the news lately. From collaborations involving big-name shoe manufacturers such as Adidas and New Balance to crowdfunded footwear from Wiivv and OLT Footcare, 3D printed shoes are the trend of the moment – but unlike most trends, this one isn’t likely to fade anytime soon. 3D printing allows manufacturers to design and produce shoes that are fully customized to each wearer’s feet, making them more comfortable and healthier to wear. 3D scanning technology has advanced to the point at which it’s becoming easy to obtain complete data about a person’s foot, leading to perfectly molded shoes.

Prodways TPU-70A material [Image: Prodways]

Prodways is the latest company to introduce 3D printed footwear technology. The French industrial 3D printing company has announced that they are developing a portfolio specifically aimed at different areas of footwear manufacturing. It’s based around a new elastomeric thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) material, a fully integrated solution for insole printing, and their own patented MOVINGLight technology for the 3D printing of composite outsole molds.

The new TPU material is key. According to Prodways, it has an elongation at break capacity of over 300%. Manufacturers that use the material will be able to create highly flexible midsoles with good fatigue resistance, and by 3D printing them, they’ll be able to eliminate tooling costs and save valuable time. The material will also allow for the 3D printing of lattice structures with lighter weight and higher precision than is possible with other manufacturing techniques.

Prodways has already received interest from major footwear manufacturers, including Nike, which has been using the elastomeric TPU for prototyping.

“Prodways’ TPU material has been an excellent addition to our Rapid Prototyping operations,” said Harleigh Doremus, Nike Rapid Prototyping. “The ease-of-processing of the TPU material has allowed us to consistently produce high quality flexible parts and is a key component in increasing the ‘speed-to-market’ of new Nike products.”

[Image: Nike]

The shore hardness of Prodways’ TPU material can be varied depending on energy input, enabling the creation of variable density across different areas of the midsole. This results in better performance and customization to the individual needs of each athlete.

Prodways is also using their MOVINGLight technology to 3D print resistant composite molds for the injection or compression of complex, customized outsoles. According to Prodways, the molds can be produced within a matter of hours. The company’s footwear portfolio also includes the mass production of custom insoles through ScientiFeet, which was commercially launched in January. With ScientiFeet, podiatrists can take 3D scans of patients’ feet and send the scans off to be turned into 3D printed custom insoles, which are then delivered back to the podiatrist’s office. Over 5,000 pairs have already been 3D printed.

“Being able to 3D print customised soles for specific pain relief is a game-changer for orthopaedic applications,” said Cyrille Pailleret, General Manager at ScientiFeet. “3D printed insoles are lighter and deliver higher precision to offer a tailor-made treatment to each patient.”

With the capacity to improve health as well as athletic performance, 3D printed footwear is definitely much more than just a fad. Discuss in the Prodways forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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