Adidas Races Towards Data-Driven, 3D Printed Footwear
New 4DFWD leverages Carbon 3D printing technology to create a lattice midsole tuned for precision running performance.
May 24, 2021
Adidas is betting on data-driven design and 3D printing as it races to outpace the competition in the high-performance athletic footwear market.
Leveraging a four-year partnership with 3D printing company Carbon, Adidas has just unveiled 4DFWD, the latest model in its line of Futurecraft 4D sneakers featuring anisotropic lattice midsoles. Using Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (Carbone DLS) 3D printing process and specialized materials, the partners created a mass production process tuned to produce complex midsole lattice geometries they claim would be impossible to create with conventional injection molding processes.
The latest 4DFWD model draws from 17 years of athlete data along with lab and real-world runner testing to perfect a 3D printable lattice design culled from 5 million possible structures to maximize energy transfer. The FWD cell lattice—the cell shape, size, and strut diameter finetuned using Carbon’s Design Engine software—has been crafted to translate vertical impact forces from a runner’s downward step into forward momentum. Adidas claims 4DFWD’s data-driven design changes generate three times as much forward motion under vertical loading in mechanical testing conditions compared to previous generation models. The result: Runners can count on a 15% reduction of braking forces thanks to the 3D printed lattice midsole, which in turn redirects the vertical impact forces into horizontal forward motion.
The 4DFWD midsole was creating using Carbon’s next-generation, high-performance elastomeric (EPU) material, which the company says achieves breakthroughs in photopolymer technology in several areas, including print time, accuracy, and post-processing for high-volume applications. The material is also 40% bio-based and offers 23% more cushioning, officials said.
To complement the midsole, the 4DFWD is outfitted with a new PRIMEKNIT upper material made from recycled polyester. Here too, data played a role in driving design choices. Historical mapping data was used to code the PRIMEKNIT upper to align with the 4DFWD midsole to deliver greater support and comfort for runners.
The Adidas/Carbon partnership goes back to 2017 when the pair first announced collaboration on Futurecraft 4D, an initiative to create a mass production process for complex midsole geometries, paving the way for custom, high-performance athletic shoes. The partnership arose from Adidas’ vision to promote innovation by creating shoes that would offer variable properties across the midsole to improve shoe performance for different sports. Traditional manufacturing processes like injection molding or compression molding would not support production of multiple properties in a midsole in a single piece; the alternative would be to assemble different components together, which would open the door to multiple points of failure—a scenario Adidas was determined to avoid.
Carbon’s DLS process was selected because it could support production at scale compared to other 3D printing technologies, which the Adidas design team deemed to be too slow with a choice of inferior materials. Once the collaboration was underway, the pair developed a full print and post-processing solution for the Futurecraft 4D line that enabled printing without support material.
For a deep dive on how Adidas and Carbon are partnering to leverage 3D printing to create and produce 4D lattice midsoles at scale, check out this video.
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About the Author
Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].Follow DE