adidas has had more success with additive manufacturing (AM) thus far than possibly any other major consumer brand, using the technology to print over a million midsoles so far. Following the 4D Futurecraft and AlphaEDGE 4D lines, the latest line — the 4DFWD — is expected to be adidas’ largest AM-driven production run yet.
Additionally, the athletic apparel and footwear giant continues to get more innovative with each iteration of the 4D. The Ultra 4DFWD, just released in June, has an upper made from adidas’ proprietary Primeknit material, composed of 50% Parley Ocean Plastic, and 50% recycled polyester.
This combines adidas’s success at its AM endeavors, along with its other forward-thinking project from the past few years, recyclables. One of the company’s first well-publicized uses of AM, in fact, was to produce a concept shoe, released in 2015, with an upper made from a combination of recycled ocean plastic and recycled polyester. The next year, adidas came out with a limited run (about 7,000 pairs) of the shoe, called the UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley. However, the version of the shoe that was actually sold wasn’t produced using AM.
Thus, adidas provides an excellent example of the gradual nature of the trajectory towards success, when it comes to a large company’s ability to incorporate AM — as well as other newer technologies — into its routine production processes. A gradual approach would seem especially crucial for companies in consumer sectors, and most of all, any sector where personal tastes are of the utmost consideration.
For instance, aside from the fact that the midsole adidas makes with AM has a shape that can be ideally produced by AM, this general shape happens to be “in”, in terms of consumer preferences. This is not something adidas could’ve known when it started using AM, but now that the company is capable of using the technology for higher production volumes, it’s in a position to potentially start significantly increasing the number of products that it prints.
That helps shed some light on the perennial question of when AM will be used to accelerate mass customization. That this will eventually happen seems more realistic than it ever has. But again, it’s going to continue be a gradual process for the foreseeable future, and it’s going to have to come, first, from large companies that have already been dipping their toes in the AM waters for years prior. Put simply, a company’s AM infrastructure likely has to have stood the test of time and proven its worth, before mass customization of any kind can even be considered. On the other hand, once we do start to see the first notable cases of AM-driven mass customization, I think we’ll start to see a whole lot more of it very quickly.
Images courtesy of adidas
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