Adidas, one of the leading shoe companies in the world, released the new ULTRA4D shoe, which sports a 3D printed midsole.
Adidas is using Carbon 3D printing technology for this midsole, as the two companies have had a long partnership. Over the years they’ve combined their knowledge of shoe design, 3D printing, materials, software and manufacturing to produce a new type of shoe that’s possible only with 3D printing.
Alberto Uncini Manganelli, adidas’ GM/SVP said on LinkedIn:
“The first ULTRA4D, available in limited quantities as of today on adidas app. The most advanced midsole technology ‘4D’, resulted from great #teamwork and #collaboration between adidas and Carbon, it’s digitally printed from liquid, light and oxygen. With the primeknit upper invented with the first Iconic Ultraboost model. Innovative, high performing, iconic.”
Carbon’s strategy here is quite powerful: they’ve managed to overcome the challenge of companies being unable to leverage 3D printing with advanced designs because most companies don’t know how to produce advanced designs. They’ve done so by developing advanced software that makes it far easier for clients like adidas to make the complex designs used in products like the ULTRA4D.
One challenge to producing consumer products is the relatively slow pace of 3D print jobs. That could be why Manganelli says there will only be limited quantities of the ULTRA4D available. It may be that if the product is successful, they’ll add more 3D printing capacity to pick up production levels. Speed, though, has also always been a focal point of Carbon’s 3D printing technology, and by now they’re no stranger to consumer products.
What’s also interesting is that on adidas’ own ULTRA4D page there is considerable attention paid to the technology behind the shoe, and in particular featuring their partner, Carbon.
There’s something fascinating about how they describe the shoe’s creation:
“Crafted With Data. Years of athlete data turned the liquid into solid: A midsole precisely tuned for sport”
“Grown From Liquid. World’s first 3D printed midsole. Bringing thousands of athletes together in one precisely tuned stride.”
There’s even a picture of a Carbon 3D printer on the ULTRA4D page:
While we’re quite accustomed to seeing images of 3D printers — I see them constantly all day long — that’s not the case for shoe shoppers. When was the last time a shoe shopper was presented with a 3D printer?
I suspect adidas is hoping there’s a bit of magic from Carbon shining on their new midsole, and that may indeed be the case, at least for now. It is a unique product.
However, in the long term other manufacturers could also transform their production into advanced 3D printed models, and at that point the use of additive techniques could become normal. It might not be as novel as it is today.
When 3D printing becomes widespread, it will also become invisible.