By Ty P.
Many athletic gear companies have been trying to use 3D printing more and more in their products, and Reebok recently followed that trend. Other athletic giants such as Adidas and New Balance have already put out shoes that include a fully 3D printed midsole, but Reebok has an entirely new method of making their revolutionary shoes.
Reebok’s Future division began the Liquid Factory technique about 3 years ago. Inspired by industrial urethane dispensing systems, which just simply draw urethane onto their components. Liquid Factory uses an industrial robot that extrudes thick layers of polyurethane quickly and in three dimensions. Specifically, the outsole of the shoe is 3D printed, along with “wings” protruding from the sides of the outsole to create the shoe’s lacing system. This “liquid” outsole is said to have two times or more of the energy return of a normal rubber outsole. The wings stretch and conform to your foot, causing a better fit than most. They also react to the ground in ways most shoes can’t because of the laces being physically attached to the outsole.
Reebok hopes that since the printing process will cut out the high expenses of the molds to cast the shoes, they will be able to produce shoes faster, more locally, and at a lower cost. Bill McInnis, the Head of Reebok Future, spoke of the problem he has with molds.
“When we started to look at local for local manufacturing, one of the big stumbling blocks in doing that was getting over the mold problem in that every shoe on every shelf is made with molds. Molds are expensive. They’re time-consuming, and you typically need inexpensive labor to operate them, as well. Inexpensive labor is part of what has moved us into Asia for most of our manufacturing. Then, you have to add shipping to get the product back to our major markets. Focusing in on molds was the main issue.”
Although Reebok had been using 3D printing for prototyping shoes for upwards of 16 years, it was only recently they could use them in shoes. “It was still too slow, too expensive and it didn’t use the correct materials for us to bring into production and scale.” Unlike other 3D printing processes, the Liquid Factory technique is much faster, due to the fluidity and thick layers the polyurethane produces.
Although Reebok is pushing for the future in shoes, it still may take some time to actually be completed. So far only 300 pairs have currently been produced and were quickly sold out on Reebok’s official website, but that doesn’t mean that sooner than later, we will have mass produced 3D printed shoes for everyone to wear.