A number of footwear companies are turning to 3D printing / additive manufacturing to create more versatile footwear and deliver shoes that improve a wearer’s comfort or athletic performance. In the competitive footwear industry, sport shoe manufacturers, for example, are looking for ways to accelerate new product launches.
Prodways Group, a subsidiary of Groupe Gorgé, and developer of additive manufacturing systems, has developed 3D technologies and materials for faster manufacturing of final outsoles, midsoles and insoles with complex textures and custom design and properties across the sole that offer a competitive alternative to traditional manufacturing processes.
Prodways Group has developed an elastomeric material for additive manufacturing that has already convinced many sportswear industry leaders including Nike.
Designed for use with laser sintering 3D printers, the proprietary thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) material stands out for its elongation at break capacity of over 300%. This material lets footwear manufacturers print ultra-flexible mid-soles with higher fatigue resistance, while eliminating the time and cost of tooling. This process also enables a high level of precision in 3D printing of lattice structures, a level that could not be reached with traditional manufacturing processes, thus saving weight and bringing higher performance to sportswear midsoles.
Mr Harleigh Doremus, Nike Rapid Prototyping, commented: “Prodways’ TPU material has been an excellent addition to our Rapid Prototyping operations. The ease-of-processing of the TPU material allows us to consistently produce high quality flexible parts and is a key component in increasing the ‘speed-to-market’ of new Nike products.”
While traditional molding techniques limit the capacity to adjust the properties across the midsole, TPU’s shore hardness can be varied depending on energy input, allowing variable density for each area of the midsole, which better addressing the needs of each sport or athlete.
In addition, Prodways Group offers a range of laser sintering printers with the largest capacities in their segment, taking the additive manufacturing of sportswear midsoles beyond small series manufacturing and up to the industrial level.
Challenging the manufacturing of outer soles
Major footwear players bring hundreds of new sports shoes to market every year, with each new model requiring several dozen outsole patterns and molds to fit each foot size. Prodways Group’s MOVINGLight additive manufacturing technology, combined with a proprietary material, prints resistant composite molds to inject or compress a series of final outsoles with tailored designs and complex textures.
While traditional metal mold tooling processes are expensive and slow MOVINGLight technology can produce molds that are ready for production within a few hours.
Mass production of bespoke insoles
Prodways Group has been developing an application dedicated to bespoke insoles using 3D printing. Commercially launched in January 2017, ScientiFeet offers podiatrists a fully integrated solution from foot scanner impression to 3D printing of the end product. Then, the insoles are delivered to the practitioner’s office.
“Being able to 3D print custom soles for specific pain relief is a game-changer for orthopaedic applications. 3D printed insoles are lighter and deliver higher precision to offer a tailor-made treatment to each patient,” commented Cyrille Pailleret, General Manager at ScientiFeet.
Whether orthopedic, in response to a medical condition, for comfort or to improve sports performance, insoles today represent a growing global market. More than 5,000 pairs of ScientiFeet insoles have already been printed.