Adidas Unveils Futurecraft 4D Footwear Crafted With Light, Oxygen

The process that Adidas AG (ADR) uses to create the Futurecraft 4D shoes involves Digital Light Synthesis.

Eric Liedtke, adidas Group Executive Board member responsible for Global Brands, said of the technology, "With Digital Light Synthesis, we venture beyond limitations of the past, unlocking a new era in design and manufacturing".

For the non-scientifically inclined, Adidas explained the Digital Light Synthesis process in easily digestible language: It is a process that uses digital light projection, oxygen-permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins to generate high-performance, durable polymeric products.

The German company said it has partnered with Silicon Valley start-up Carbon to produce the Futurecraft 4D, with the first 300 pairs being released this month for family and friends.

Carbon's Digital Light Synthesis technique uses controlled bursts of light and oxygen to create solid 3D objects from a pool of liquid resin. This process allows custom shoes to be designed with the athlete's best performance fit in mind. And they aim to further reduce print time to 20 minutes. The partnership with Carbon allows Adidas "to overcome many of [the] difficulties to produce a sole that can rival one made by an injection mold, and at a speed and price that allow for mass production", reports Reuters. But what makes it different is its midsole: It's a flexible, 3D-printed polyurethane elastomer whose lattice structure varies in density to give a wearer's foot support and cushioning where it's needed.

Adidas said it analyzed a library of running data to come up with the flawless design for the sole.

The footwear industry has been teasing us for years about 3D-printed athletic shoes for the masses. Why? The company plans to sell 5,000 of the Futurecraft 4D this fall, and an additional 10,000 next year. If the company has its way, eventually everyone will have 3-D printed shoes that feel good and are highly detailed and customized thanks to 3-D printing technology. The downside it that it will take time, as Adidas and Carbon have to bring down the costs of production before these shoes are anything near affordable.

The final product has a smooth surface and looks like one piece, rather than the rough, layered look produced by other printers.

  • Wendy Palmer