IMAGE: Laser sintering-based 3D printing using soft materials is changing the types of objects that can be fabricated. (Image credit: New Balance)
Athletic wear company New Balance (Boston, MA) is launching the first high-performance running shoe with a 3D printed midsole. Through an exclusive collaboration with 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC) and their newly developed elastomeric powder called DuraForm Flex TPU, New Balance has made significant advancements in the performance of 3D printed parts for running shoes.
New Balance says the new midsoles leverage the benefits of 3D printing and breakthroughs in materials science to achieve an optimal balance of flexibility, strength, weight, and durability. This limited edition, state-of-the-art running shoe will launch first in Boston in April 2016 and then in select New Balance retail locations around the globe.
The latest designs of the 3D printed midsole are based on underfoot pressure data from heel strikers with more cushioning elements in areas of higher average pressure. This data to design formula follows the path that New Balance designers used to create the award winning Fresh Foam collection. For midsole production, New Balance uses selective laser sintering (SLS), a process that converts new powder materials into solid cross-sections, layer by layer, using a laser.
"This project represents an unprecedented technical collaboration in footwear," says Sean Murphy, New Balance senior manager of innovation and engineering. "To deliver this level of performance with a 3D printed component, we paired experts in running and biomechanics with leaders in plastics engineering, material development and generative design. These are the types of collaborations that will drive footwear design and manufacturing in the future."
In 2013 New Balance was the first athletic brand to have a track athlete, middle distance runner Jack Bolas, compete with data-customized, 3D printed spike plates. Since then Team New Balance athletes have continued to compete in custom, printed spikes including US Olympic Athlete Kim Conley at the 2014 USATF Outdoor National Championships where she came in first in the 10,000m. Beyond Track & Field New Balance has also created customized soccer cleats and baseball spikes for its elite athletes.
"In 2013 we said this was the future of footwear manufacturing and today we are proud to bring the future to consumers with a fully 3D printed midsole," says New Balance president and CEO Robert DeMartini. "With 3D printing we are able to pursue performance customization at a whole new level."