“World’s First” Waterproof 3D-Printed Shoe, Made Using LEAP 3D Printing

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LuxCreo, a provider of ultra-fast 3D printing at-scale solutions based out of Silicon Valley and Beijing, has launched what it claims to be the ‘world’s first waterproof 3D printed sneaker’, the Bisca360, on Kickstarter.

Image courtesy of LuxCreo Lab

With the Bisca360, the company has innovated in not only 3D printing complete midsoles with what is meant to be significantly improved performance and resilience, but also in 3D printing an upper that the makers claim to be 100% waterproof and windproof. The Bisco360’s midsole is said to offer far greater resilience relative to other 3D printed midsoles, showing no compression loss over time even after 1 million steps.

Image courtesy of LuxCreo Lab

The shoe also includes open lattice structures (impossible to produce using injection molding), and a specialty material, “AirMore multi-layer fabric”, in the uppers to provide free air flow and breathability in all directions. The company uses Digital Light Processing (DLP)-based technology, although LuxCreo claims its patented process, Light Enabled Additive Manufacturing (LEAP), to be 100x faster (at 120cm/hour) than traditional 3D printing technologies, and provides better material properties. The unique waterproof feature is enabled by three layers of nano-fabric.

In addition, the ecological footprint in manufacturing such shoes has been reduced significantly with the Bisca360, which has been designed for longevity, and custom-made to reduce 30-40% of waste in the supply chain. In the US context, where 300 million pairs of shoes are discarded into a landfill and take 30-40 years to decompose, every pair of Bisca360 sneakers claim to eliminate two pairs of regular shoes in that waste process.

The shoe is being positioned for “business casual” audiences, targeting a broad segment of consumers for everyday wear. Launched on Kickstarter on Jun 30, the Bisca360 has currently earned over $33,000, far exceeding its goal of $5000. LuxCreo Lab claims to be a self-funded  innovation lab pioneering 3D production for commercial grade applications, and the award-winning company currently provides solutions in sectors such as athletics, medical, consumer goods, robotics, automotive, and aerospace.

In some cases, 3D printed midsoles are customized or personalized for fit, appearance, or orthotic requirements for each individual customer. Traditionally made of injection-molded materials or foam, midsoles lose their mechanical properties and due to a lack of custom support, and can lead to poor fit, discomfort or injuries. 3D printing materials, however, allow customization of fit or function, and enable parametric, generative design for optimal support for each foot of each customer for each application. Major footwear companies such as Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Under Armour have partnered with 3D printing solution providers primarily focused on 3D printing the midsole (or a part of it) component of a shoe. Recent efforts have also seen 3D printing innovation in uppers, heels, outsoles and fully custom products or concepts.

                                                                                       Image courtesy of SmarTech Analysis

For example, Peak Sports, a Chinese sportswear manufacturer, has partnered with Farsoon to develop an almost fully 3D printed shoe (Future Fusion Peak3D) using selective laser sintering (SLS) to print the upper, midsole and outsole in TPU and 3D printed fabrics. For 3D printing shoes, materials such as TPU are used with SLS and fused deposition modeling 3D printing technology, while polyurethanes are used with CLIP (from Carbon) and specially design resin materials are used with stereolithography (Formlabs). Now, LuxCreo can add its proprietary EM-13 elastic material to the list.

Image courtesy of LuxCreo Lab

These solutions have largely been developed in small volumes and limited edition runs, with only a few focusing on scaling production to over a million pairs in the coming years. Innovation has come a long way from simply personalizing non-functional components of a shoe, or providing custom size fit such as with ECCO’s Quant-U service. Today, specialized materials, generative and parametric lattice designs and structures are transforming the functionality and performance of shoes, cleats, sandals and slippers, as well as bringing faster innovation cycles, decentralization, flexibility, efficiency, and sustainability into the footwear supply chain.

With technologies such as CLIP and LEAP, 3D printing is also enabling production to scale to higher volumes (> 1 million units). SmarTech’s recent report, 3D-Printed Footwear 2019-2029, an Analysis of the Market Potential of 3D Printing in the Footwear Industry, projects annual revenues due to AM parts or products to exceed $1 billion by 2023 and $6.5 billion by 2029, growing at 19.5% CAGR. The footwear industry has moved far beyond prototyping applications for 3D printing, proving not only its viability and cost-effectiveness for mass production, but also its ability to revolutionize footwear products and transform today’s design to disposal cycle for footwear. With smaller players such as Peak Sports, and LuxCreo in Asia competing with global industry giants, it is interesting to see products like the ‘mega-resilient’, waterproof Bisca360 take not just a step, but a LEAP forward in consumer footwear innovation using AM.

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