3D printer manufacturer EnvisionTEC, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, is probably best known for its 3D-Bioplotter machine and its work and specialized 3D printers in the dental and jewelry industries, though its technology has also been put to good use in the consumer goods industry. Now, the company has announced that it’s jumping on the 3D printed shoe bandwagon and introducing its new E-Shore A material for footwear.

Excitement surrounding the concept of custom 3D printed shoes, which some say are the future of footwear manufacturing, goes back at least four years to June of 2013, when a pair of 3D printed Nike football cleats graced the cover of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Less than a year later, Nike filed two major 3D printing footwear patent applications, and the company’s President and CEO Mike Parker said that 3D printing technology was key to the company’s continued growth. Other major footwear companies, like New Balance, Reebok, Under Armour, and Adidas soon followed suit, and have continued progress, wanting to take advantage of the complex geometries and customized fits that additive manufacturing can offer, which aren’t possible in conventional manufacturing processes.

It wasn’t long after the buzz began that we started hearing about extremely unique, if sometimes impractical, 3D printed footwear – shoes that featured gold plating and interchangeable heels, and pairs that could breach security and help Kenyans afflicted with jigger infections reduce their chances of being infected again. We’ve even seen a pair of 3D printed “magic shoes” help a young girl with cerebral palsy walk on her own.

3D printed shoes have been thrust into the spotlight on many national and international stages over the past few years, like the Miss America pageant, the basketball court and the baseball field, and the Olympics, to name a few.

Then, of course, there are the companies that solely focus on 3D printed footwear and insoles, like Feetz, Wiiv, RESA, and OESH Shoes. More and more, we are seeing a steadfast change in the world toward custom, on-demand choices in our shoes and clothing, and a lot of this change is due to the customization offered by 3D printing technology.

While we are still not at the point where 3D printed shoes are available on the shelves during a trip to the mall, we are now seeing companies that have not previously focused on 3D printed footwear, like HP and now EnvisionTEC, joining the 3D printed footwear craze – even if it may not be happening as quickly as some would prefer.

“3D printing is this amazing combustion of mechanical, electronic, optical and software engineering, as well as material science. As such, it takes time for all this manufacturing technology to be optimized to work together for specific tasks — way more time than it takes for, say, consumer technology,” EnvisionTEC wrote recently.

“At EnvisionTEC, we’ve been developing 3D printers and materials for 15 years, so we know this stuff takes time.”

The company’s materials team, which is run by 3D printing chemistry expert and EnvisionTEC’s Head of Materials R&D Dr. Vadim Nazarov, have been working on its 3D printable E-Shore A material for custom footwear for quite a while, and the material’s final release is on the horizon. E-Shore A is now ready for beta testing on the company’s line of reliable, fourth generation Perfactory 3D printers.

E-Shore A is waterproof, tear-resistant, durable, and, most importantly, comfortable. It has a stable viscosity and produces beautiful 3D printed products. The advanced, engineering-grade material is similar to polyurethane, and according to EnvisionTEC, is capable of producing a soft Shore A value in the 40-50 range. The material was developed specifically for end-use applications, like sporting goods and footwear.

E-Shore A material by EnvisionTEC is available in beta for the company’s more experienced customers, and I’m certain I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait to hear more about it soon.

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[Images: EnvisionTEC]

 

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