Like many other industries, addictive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has made its way into the $215 billion footwear market. The contributions that 3D printing can have on footwear production are limitless as it will not only allow faster production at a fraction of the costs, but it will also enable footwear to be customized to meet the desires of each individual consumer. Companies that produce footwear will have the ability to dramatically reduce the amount of material waste they produce while consumers will be able to purchase a pair of shoes that fit their size and needs unlike ever before.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

Adidas

[Image: Carbon]

Just a few months ago Adidas unveiled their new, innovative “Futurecraft 4D” shoes with a 3D printed sole. The German company partnered with Silicon Valley startup Carbon which uses Digital Light Synthesis along with 3D printing technology to create over 50 different forms of latex to be used for the sole of the shoe. After testing each kind, Adidas and Carbon chose a material that would allow the sole to be springy and able to bounce back like any other pair of traditional shoes.

The Digital Light Synthesis allows Carbon to print objects up to 10 times faster than other 3D printing methods. As of now, Adidas plans on releasing 5,000 pairs of the Futurecraft 4D later this year and plans on mass producing over 100,000 pairs by the end of next year with the help of Carbon’s time efficient technology. The printing speed is contributed to Carbon’s 3D printing process which starts from the bottom and is continuous unlike many other printing methods which print the product layer by layer from top down. The product’s liquid resin material allows the final product to be more flexible than traditional materials used in other 3D printing processes. The Digital Light Synthesis also prevents the object being printed from sticking to the printing surface because it never actually touches it. The printing surface is permeable to the digital light and oxygen pumped through surface to maintain a thin layer of air between the printing surface and the product being printed.

“We can produce … up to 100 times faster than other 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes,” an Adidas spokesperson told CNNTech.

“In the long run, we will be able to provide each athlete with bespoke performance products tailored to their individual physiological data and needs on demand,” the spokesperson said.

Nike

[Image: Nike]

Nike plans on taking innovation and athlete agility to a new level with its Vapor Laser Talon Cleat. The cleat was the first 3D printed plate to be used in football which allows athletes optimal traction on the football turf and to maintain their “drive stances” longer. They would then expand on 3D printed cleat product line with the Vapor HyperAgility Cleat. The pattern on the cleat, stud placement and overall shape of the shoe is able to increase surface traction and allows the athlete to be more aggressive while running the turf.

The cleat was made with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) which is a 3D printing technology that uses high-powered lasers to fuse small particles of materials into a 3D shape. While this technology is typically used for prototyping, Nike was able to create a fully functional plate and traction system in a fraction of time and weight of traditional shoe production methods.

“In order to create a cleat that minimized slippage on the turf when cutting, 3D printing again allowed us to test, iterate and create shapes not possible with traditional manufacturing processes, which in turn allowed us to push the limits of innovation faster,” said Shane Kohatsu, Nike Director of Footwear Innovation. “The HyperAgility cleat helps the athlete accelerate faster, while creating an optimal braking and traction system.”

Under Armour

[Image: Under Armour]

In March of 2016, Under Armour released 96 pairs of its ArchiTech running shoes. The shoe has a 3D printed lattice structure sole and is meant to be a multipurpose trainer, meaning one can go from exercising to weight training to sprinting without having to change their shoes. The company’s goal was to make the shoe stable while also being lightweight so that the user has flexibility and cushioning while wearing the shoe. They did this by 3D printing the heel of the sneaker with a combination of polymers and elastomers to provide protection and cushioning underfoot. Under Armour worked with 80 athletes to test and provide feedback over 120 hours to perfect the innovative shoe. This year, the company introduced the new ArchiTech Futurist.

New Balance

[Image: New Balance]

New Balance’s first 3D printed footwear meant for the public was released in April of 2016. The Zante Generate is the industry’s first performance running shoe with a 3D printed sole. With only 44 pairs produced, New Balance designed the midsoles by converting a powder material into solid cross sections which would allow the user to achieve optimal flexibility, strength, weight and durability. The hundreds of small, open cells in the shoe provide cushioning and structure for the best performance possible.

Feetz

[Image: Feetz]

Feetz is a shoe company that produces 3D printed shoes from recycled and recyclable material. The company prides itself on using zero water while producing its shoes which reduces its carbon footprint by 60%. They are able to make 7 billion different shoe sizes to create a custom style and fit for each individual consumer. The shoes come with memory foam technology to make them comfortable while promising they will last for at least 500 miles of walking. Feetz’s patented polymer is up to four times more flexible than any other shoes on the market, with the ability to stretch to 700-800% without breaking and still being able to return to its original form.

Shoetopia

[Image: Shoetopia]

Shoetopia is another sustainable and customizable shoe company that 3D prints biodegradable sneakers designed via an app.  Consumers can design their own shoe which then gets transformed into a print file and gets sent to 3D printer. The prototype shoe is constructed without using any glue by 3D printing the filament directly onto the material which makes the shoe environmentally friendly and durable. The app is user friendly so that anyone can customize their own pair without having any technology or shoemaking skills. It even comes with a foot measuring feature to produce a perfect fit.

Conclusion

While 3D printing has made its way to hundreds of industries, it may just have the most impact on footwear as it can allow companies such as Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, and New Balance to mass produce their products faster than ever before while using less material and generating less waste. Smaller companies such as Feetz and Shoetopia took the fact that 3D printing allows more customization and used it to build their business. With personalized shoe designs and fits, people won’t have to worry about an uncomfortable shoe anymore as they can purchase ones meant to fit their foot and needs perfectly. Since shoes are essential and 3D printing is increasing in popularity, these companies won’t be at a loss for consumers or innovation.

 


Charles Goulding and Madison Khazzam of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing in the footwear industry

 





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