As Athletes Compete, So Do their Cobblers – 3D Printed Shoes

In Formula 1, the driver gets the credit for winning the race even though the win was a massive team effort between engineers, mechanics, lab technicians, researchers, and scientists.  Technology has a similar effect on “pure” sports like track and field or football,  from new understandings of the body helping develop better diets and training regimens to new swimsuit materials being so advantageous in reducing drag in the water that they are banned from competition.

In a similar way, 3D Printing can help shape the future of athletic footwear for a number of reasons:

Nike 3D Sole

1: Dynamic Material Designs – Imagine a shoe sole made up entirely of thousands and thousands of micro-springs.  Even if the original material were rigid with little impact absorption, complex micro-structures could give new properties to that material.  For instance, if impact from running or jumping could be reduced right at the point of contact, it could decrease wear and tear on the athlete’s joints, muscles, and bones.

2: Lightweight Lattice Structures – An 1/8th ounce of weight reduction in the athlete’s gear could mean a 1/100th of a second cut in finish time.  That could mean the difference between first and fifth place.  3D Printing allows for material only to exist where it is structurally necessary, eliminating all extraneous material on the shoe meaning that they are as light as possible.

3: Biologically Optimized, Custom Designs – 3D printing means better economies of scale for “one-off” production. Couple that with the ability to 3D scan the body and create custom fits right to that organic shape and we have a technology that can make optimal shoes for any athlete.  Not only can they be produced for best fit to maximize ground contact and traction for athletes, but custom cleat spikes can be placed in any location, with any shape or size to fit that athlete’s preference.  Athletes could have an arsenal of custom shoes optimized for them and the conditions of a particular competition (dirt vs. grass, wet vs. dry).

This is not speculation.  As I write this, Nike and New Balance are some of the first pioneers to announce the amazing shoes are producing thanks to 3D printing to advance athletic competition.  They use Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to make custom nylon soles for their athletes.  Click the following to read about Nike and New Balance and their 3D printing endeavors.

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