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Adidas’s Futurecraft 4D is an honoree in the 2017 Innovation By Design Adidas NMD Mujer Rosa Awards, Fast Company‘s annual celebration of the best ideas in design. See the rest of the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions here.The soles Nike Air Max 90 Donne Nero look like intricate baskets woven from clear seafoam green toothpaste. The sensation underfoot is bouncy yet firm, and strangely, you can literally feel the air passing under your feet. There are only a few hundred pairs of Adidas’s radical new 3D–printed running shoes, known as Futurecraft 4D, in existence, but already they represent an early victory lap around competitors’ attempts, because they are actually coming to market en masse: By the end of the year, Adidas will have produced 5,000 pairs, with 100,000 more planned by the end of 2018.Industry leader Nike has spent the past two years focused on building better foam midsoles that maximize athletic performance, culminating in its Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% and Nike Zoom Fly Nike Roshe Run Mujer shoes, which went on sale in June. Nike, Under Armour, and even New Balance have all revealed 3D concepts in Nike Air Max 90 Dámské černé the past year, but most are either prototypes or rare limited editions. (New Balance has Adidas ZX 750 Dam committed to large-scale 3D printing and manufacturing starting in 2018, but won’t reveal any numbers.) How Adidas, the second-biggest footwear company in the world, pulled ahead in the 3D race is a story of foresight, perseverance, and strategic collaboration.

While the company has been raising its global profile by smartly leveraging creative partnerships with cultural icons such as Pharrell and Kanye West, it has also been upping its technical manufacturing game at its German headquarters, where designers and engineers have been experimenting with 3D printing since 2010. “If you can eliminate the block of foam under your foot, you have a lot of opportunity to tune and manage Nike Air Max Classic BW Femme attenuate forces, a lot of different experiential benefits,” says Nike Air Max 1 Womens Paul Gaudio, Adidas’s global creative director.For the first four years, the company’s Nike Air Huarache Womens attempts ended only in failure. Three-dimensional printing materials—the actual polymers used by the machine—are rigid, and therefore brittle under pressure. Not the ideal choice for an athletic shoe. What’s more, 3D printing is notoriously slow. Traditional EVA foam midsoles, produced through injection molding, can be made in 20 minutes. Printing the same design nanometer by nanometer would take hours.But Adidas designers made significant strides when it came to shape, going deep into the physics of lattice structures and exploring how their various geometries—too complicated to draw by hand or even model inside traditional computer drafting programs—could be woven by algorithm into a high-performance construction. “I remember the first time I saw one,” Gaudio says of one Nike Air Max 90 Femme Noir of the early, stiff 3D prototypes rendered in lattice. “Someone Nike Air Pegasus 89 Donne pulled it out of a bag, and I was like, That’s really cool. I understood immediately the possibility of it.”

Eventually, they created a more functional material as well, using a polymer powder resembling the one the company uses for its own Boost line. Adidas 3D–manufactured a few hundred pairs of shoes with these new soles, under the name 3D Runner, but had trouble with scale. Existing 3D–printing technologies could build only six midsoles at a time, and that process took 8 to 10 hours. Then the midsoles had to sit for another eight hours cooling in the machine before being cracked out of a powder block—much like salt-roasted fish—and hand-dusted of microparticles. The 3D Runner debuted in December 2016 for $333 to eager collectors, but the shoes cost significantly more for Adidas to produce and were sold at a loss.At a St. Nike Air Max 95 Womens Louis trade show in 2016, Adidas’s Future engineering director Marco Kormann met Phil DeSimone, the head of business development for a Nike Air Max 90 Dam Rosa 3D–printing startup called Carbon, which was already in talks with several of Adidas’s competitors. Carbon had discovered a way to print with liquid instead of powder. Adidas designers brought hockey-puck-shaped samples of the printed substance back to their lab in Germany and smashed it with machines to test its feasibility underfoot. “We were immediately impressed,” says Adidas’s Future Nike Air Max 90 Dam VP Gerd Manz. “You see a lot of data claims by companies, and they fall down when you test them.”

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