As digitalization becomes the new buzzword in the fashion world new challenges appear for shoe manufacturers. Reduce the response time and increase flexibility, efficiency and quality while considering security and environment is just the tip of the iceberg.
While the footwear industry, like many other sectors, is in the midst of a transformation unlike any before, companies face challenges that can be turned into opportunities if the right decision is made in the right moment. However, to be able to do it, businesses have to become familiar with the concepts developed by the Industry 4.0. As the digital integration of the end-to-end value chain becomes a strategic priority for companies, concepts like additive manufacturing, automation, robotics and digital technology can no longer be strange words to the daily life of a company.
Today, we present you the concept of additive manufacturing, which refers to the process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material.
Major global players have long been embedding additive manufacturing into their product development process, particularly in the sneakers business. They make in house 3D prints that are used for decisions on product aesthetics and functionality, but also for fixtures and other parts.
3D printing has proven to be especially valuable for making parts of customized footwear, such as plates – the moulded part at the bottom of an athletic – and cushioning materials, such as insoles, midsoles or outsoles.
The current limits to 3D are seen in finalizing a set of fully capable footwear materials and putting the technology into action on a production line. Besides this, there are not yet a wide range of different materials that can work with 3D printing and the amounts of material waste are considerably expensive, though there have been tremendous advances in the recent years.
Transforming the upper part of the shoe from 2D to 3D is a complex challenge that will require some new thinking on product construction and automation. There are still a lot of cut parts in the stitching operation, and to remove all the handcrafted parts is still far from being achieved.
Saying this, it has to be noted that companies like adidas are starting to incorporate 3D printing in a deeper level, by exploring new ways of changing the manufacturing landscape, with the so-called “Speedfactory” that will be operated by robots and will utilize 3D printing technology that allows for mass customization of footwear that will be manufactured according to specific requirements at no additional process cost.