Performance is in the details. In footwear, that means design and materials—both of which are ultimately bound by manufacturing.
In 2017, New Balance began a partnership with Formlabs to develop a 3D printing production system to open innovation opportunities on both fronts, with unlimited design freedom to create performance-optimized structures, an avenue to affordably manufacture customized components at scale, and a new arena of material possibilities.
This summer, the company takes a giant step forward in delivering on this vision with the announcement of TripleCell: a premium technology platform powered by Formlabs stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers and a completely new material, Rebound Resin.
Katherine Petrecca, New Balance General Manager of Footwear at the Innovation Design Studio: “TripleCell enables us to forge a new path into using data to inform every millimeter of the underfoot experience. Formlabs has been an integral partner to bring this to life. We’re really going to be able to disrupt the industry not only in performance, but also in athlete customization and speed to market.”
Finding Customization Opportunities in a Complex Supply Chain
Shoes are inherently complex products. Footwear is a high inventory, high volume business that often still involves a lot of manual labor and craftsmanship. New Balance introduces thousands of designs a year, and a single model includes hundreds of SKUs of color and size combinations, with components made with different materials, tolerances, and tooling programs.
As the demand for customization grows, this only becomes more complicated. The modern consumer demands custom products that can be ordered from anywhere, from a variety of devices, and quickly delivered.
To date, most companies have only been able to offer highly customized products as one-offs, leveraging 3D printing to develop and manufacture highly customized athletic footwear for professional athletes. In 2013, the first athlete competed in a custom 3D printed shoe. Shortly after, we saw more firsts—in track, football, baseball, and so on.
Parallel to these developments, 3D printing technology was evolving. In 2012, Formlabs introduced the Form 1 with the goal of making powerful, reliable stereolithography (SLA) affordable, accessible, and scalable. The Form 2 followed in 2015, and users have since printed over 40 million parts. Now, the Form 3 and Form 3L open the door to further possibilities within 3D printed production, including large scale parts.
Today, 3D printing is well on its way to making mass customization a reality for more businesses, with examples across industries paving the way, like the pilot of Gillette’s Razor Maker™ platform, which served as one of the first examples of direct-to-consumer, end-use 3D printed parts.