Running Shoe Hits its Stride With 3D Printing

A partnership between Brooks Running and HP results in an experimental shoe that raises the bar on performance and sustainability.

A partnership between Brooks Running and HP results in an experimental shoe that raises the bar on performance and sustainability.

Brooks Running’s Exhilarate-BL test sneaker raises the performance bar thanks to a 3D printed midsole built with HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. Image Courtesy of Brooks Running

As a manufacturer of high-end running shoes, Brooks Running is always chasing the latest in technology and materials innovation to gain a leg up on performance. Its latest sprint comes through an expanded partnership with HP to leverage 3D printing to fine-tune the performance of the shoe based on runner data.

The new Exhilarate-BL shoe, part of the footwear brand’s BlueLine Lab program, features 3DNA, a 3D printed midsole technology that delivers a bouncy feel that propels the runner forward with ease. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology enabled the midsole to be optimized at a millimeter level to bolster the shoe’s performance—a technique that would not be possible with traditional manufacturing methods, according to Nikhil Jain, director of footwear PLM and the Blueline Labs program at Brooks Running.

HP’s 3D printing capabilities, combined with Brooks Running’s years of accumulated knowledge of runners’ needs and unique running styles, came together in this project. “We bring biomechanical research, decades of running experience, and the knowledge of how to build shoes,” Jain explains. “HP’s 3D printing capabilities gives us the ability to finetune and manipulate changes to lattice structures close to the millimeter level to optimize our footware. This helps us truly bring our Northstar vision of allowing each individual to experience their best run to life.“

The design for the Exhilarate-BL shoe is based on runners’ data, although not a one-to-one match to create a custom pair for a specific individual. HP and Brooks Running used years of accumulated data to design and tune shoe models based on groups of sizes so that each category has the optimal cushioning and spring for every stride.  Over the course of years, Brooks Running has collected data on runners—for example, on cadence, weight, and the force with which the foot hits the ground—which is then leveraged to create individual designs to represent different underfoot experiences. Brooks Running also took the lead on the design elements for the external sidewall of the midsole lattice structure to comply with its “crafted beauty” differentiation strategy, Jain says.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology provides a number of advantages, including extremely high fidelity in terms of the ability to finetune results. “You can really leverage data well through the system, and once you identify a formula, it’s easily repeatable and consistent, which is absolutely critical when building running shoes,” Jain says.

Sustainability is another advantage. The ability to reuse powder and use fewer materials is a plus—HP estimates that the Exhilarate-BL shoe will deliver higher energy return on midsole production than 90% of market alternatives. “We want to continue to learn and adopt some of these more sustainable manufacturing options,” Jain says.

The Exhilarate-BL shoe will be released as part of a test and learn program to select Brooks Wear Testers and Brooks Run Club loyalty members.

HP has experimented with other efforts to utilize 3D printing for the consumer footwear industry. Its FitStation technology captured a 3D scan of an individual’s foot and applied dynamic gait analysis to create a design of a customized insole or piece of footwear that could be 3D printed using HP Sprout or Multi Jet Fusion technology. Brooks and HP had an earlier partnership based on this technology for its Genesys experimental shoe, however, that product is no longer available.

“We have a lot of learnings based on that collaboration and with our combined work around 3DNA and Exhilarate-BL,” Jain says.”We are constantly learning as we engage with runners and the market.”

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Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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