Carbon copy? Adidas' 3D-printed sneaker hints at new supply chain models
- A partnership between Adidas and Carbon, a 3D-printing enabled manufacturer, promises to change the sneaker supply chain, TechCrunch reports. Together, the companies developed Adidas' Futurecraft 4D shoes, which take a digital model of a customer's foot structure and quickly print a shoe to fit it.
- Carbon uses Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), a photochemical process that harnesses light and oxygen to rapidly produce objects from a pool of resin, as explained on its website.
- The shoe won’t be widely available for a while, however. Adidas must first assess any necessary changes to its supply chain as it begins "ramping up the innovation."
"Among the ever-growing 3D printing industry, there are a few leaders in the arena whose breakthroughs signify a shift in how 3D printing is consumed," Lizz Hill Wiker, director of technical design & 3D prototyping at Tapestry— which operates the Coach, Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade brands — told Supply Chain Dive in an email. "Rather than simply focusing on benchmarking and improving upon current manufacturing methods, some companies are shifting their focus to material development, using re-engineered materials to drive advancement in the technology and identifying entirely new methods of manufacturing, Carbon 3D being one of these leaders."
For Carbon, the partnership with Adidas is a high-profile entry point in a promising market for a technology that specializes in fast production.
The athletic footwear segment is strong and showing no signs of slowing down, according to projections by Allied Market Research. The company forecasts the global footwear market will reach $114.8 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 2.1% from 2016-2022.
The question, of course, is how to get those sneakers from factory to feet. Apparel manufacturers must adapt quickly as styles and consumer tastes change, but Adidas' story suggests 3D printing could be the quickest way to do so.
Most of Adidas’s products are made in Asia and shipped via air or cargo ship, which also takes time. With 3D printing, Adidas chief marketing officer Eric Liedtke told TechCrunch, a smaller-scale U.S. distribution point may be the solution.
"The fashion industry is one who’s design process is rooted in iteration, with incremental changes purposefully used to evolve the product," Wiker said. "With the introduction of 3D technology, the iterative process can be realized digitally, allowing for virtual sampling in a matter of days instead of weeks."
Correction: A previous version misstated Lizz Hill Wiker's title.
Follow Barry Hochfelder on Twitter