New Balance has been around for a long time – they manufacture some of the best performance shoes on the market. The Boston-based company has been responsible for a number of innovations, but they just added another feather to their cap.
They’re using 3D printing to help create custom shoes for some of their customers. What’s going on here?
A Look at New Balance’s Program
First, understand that New Balance isn’t the first company to attempt to blend shoe manufacturing with 3D printing. There have been several attempts, but most of them weren’t really geared for creating shoes that would last a long time, perform well and be comfortable.
These attempts were more about reducing waste and benefiting the environment. New Balance is doing something different.
New Balance isn’t creating entire shoes on 3D printers. Instead, they’re using the technology to help athletes perform better by custom creating specific parts for their shoes.
Perhaps the most important part of the shoe, at least in terms of track performance, is the sole. Track running shoes have a spiked plate on the bottom to provide the best possible traction.
New Balance thinks they’ve come up with a solution to the problems inherent with track shoes.
This is a completely custom process and relies on individual biometrics taken from each athlete to create unique spike plates for the bottom of their shoes. The company’s using a laser sintering process to create the plates via an EOSINT P 395 3D printer.
The company’s senior manager of innovation and engineering, Sean Murphy, said, “There are so many great things that came out of this process compared with the methods we used in the past to develop and manufacture products. We record a runner’s data, generate multiple plates we feel meet his or her needs, and provide several pairs of track spikes simultaneously for them to try.
It’s great to have them identify and respond to each different variation we produce.”
To help create the “picture” of the athlete’s performance, sensors are embedded in their shoes during practice. These sensors then read the pattern of foot strikes and create a vectorized image that can be used during the 3D printing process.
Murphy went on to explain, “We establish a relationship between high pressures and the corresponding forces to help us create a map of forces relevant to each area of the foot. A simple example is in the toe area.
Generally, when you see high pressure there, it corresponds to a force that is pushing toward the heel to create a propulsive force forward. We use parametric modeling software to process this data and distribute the position of the spike plate traction elements, calculate the orientation and adjust the size of the elements, and incorporate specific runner preferences into the design.”
The result of all this precision measuring and engineering is a pair of shoes with customized spike plates that is significantly lighter and better performing than conventional shoes. Athletes see increased speed and stability, for an overall performance boost.