Footwear giant Adidas recently announced its plans to greatly expand the role of 3D printing in its manufacturing processes. The company is planning an ambitious project to put 3D-printed midsoles into as many as 100,000 pairs of shoes by the end of 2018, with millions of pairs featuring the midsoles within a few years.


Though the plan to expand the usage of 3D printing in manufacturing its sneakers is a major step forward for Adidas, it’s far from the first time the iconic footwear manufacturer has embraced additive manufacturing technology. Adidas first announced in April of 2017 that it planned to incorporate its specially-designed 3D-printed midsole in the Futurecraft 4D sneaker. That sneaker was released in January of 2018, making it the first mass-market shoe to incorporate 3D printing as part of its overall manufacturing process.


Adidas’ 3D printing is facilitated by a startup called Carbon, which uses digital light synthesis (DLS) methods of additive manufacturing to create the company’s new midsoles. The process, similar in principle to digital light processing, utilizes UV light and proprietary liquid resin to produce prints faster than other resin-based 3D printing processes are capable of. The increased speed of printing is a major component in Adidas’ plans to mass-produce shoes with 3D-printed parts.


If successful, the expansion of 3D printing to millions of pairs of shoes over the course of only a few years would make Adidas one of the most prolific users of additive manufacturing in the world. Though the technology has already been explored for product support purposes and more specialized manufacturing, few everyday consumer products are currently made using 3D printing. As the technology advances and becomes more widespread, though, companies like Adidas are likely to bring it into the mainstream of product manufacturing. With this development, future manufacturing jobs are apt to depend more and more heavily on 3D printers, making it essential that today’s students begin learning to use them. With classroom 3D printers like those offered by Me3D, kids can engage with additive manufacturing technology and learn skills that may one day be essential for securing employment in the manufacturing sector.