Adidas joins hands with Silicon Valley start-up to mass-produce 3D printed shoes

Adidas has launched a new sneaker with a 3D-printed sole, which it would mass-produce next year. The move comes as part of a broader push by the company to respond faster to changing fashions and offer more customised products.

The company already allows people to customise the colour and pattern of shoes which they order online. With 3D printing methods Adidas could go for smaller production runs, limited edition shoes and even soles designed to fit an individual's weight and gait.

The technique is also being used by companies like Nike, Under Armour and New Balance, largely for making prototypes, due to a number of reasons.

3D printers currently in use are slow, and produce an inferior product than the injection moulds for plastic currently used for producing hundreds of millions of shoes each year, mostly in Asia.

However, according to Adidas, its new partnership with Silicon Valley start-up Carbon allows it to overcome many of those difficulties to produce a sole  of similar quality made by an injection mould, and at a speed and price that allowed for mass production.

Meanwhile, MIT Technology Review reported that Carbon, originally called Carbon 3D, was co-founded by chemical engineer Joseph DeSimone in 2013 to commercialise his research on materials and processes for faster 3-D printing using high-performance polymers. DeSimone, had won the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2008 and had also worked on materials for stents, nanomedicine, and many other applications.

Though the initial line of shoes would roll out of a centralised facility and would not be custom made, DeSimone said Adidas was able to take advantage of 3-D printing to create a shock-absorbing, multilayer structure that could not be made using injection moulding.

The process also allowed for variations in the properties of the midsole along its length, for instance with different levels of stiffness at the heel.