New Balance First Off The Blocks With A 3D Printed Running Shoe

You can create just about anything with a 3D printer these days. That includes guns, pancakes, and now a running shoe, courtesy of New Balance, which beat rivals Nike and Adidas to the punch. New Balance also got a major assist from 3D Systems, a company based in North Carolina that developed a new elastomer powder material called DuraForm Flex TPU.

New Balance 3D Printed Shoe

The special material makes up the shoe's midsole. Unlike other materials New Balance has played with in the 3D printing arena, DuraForm Flex TPU is fairly lightweight, coming in at just 40 grams more than a traditional foam midsole design. It's also strong and elastic, traits that make the new midsole design appropriate for running shoes.

New Balance Midsole

Simply calling this a 3D printed shoe doesn't really do justice to the amount of research and development that went into its design. New Balance and 3D Systems collected underfoot pressure data and used that information to ensure a cushy midsole. It's carved from a selective laser sintering (SLS) process that converts new powder materials into solid cross-sections consisting of multiple layers. It's far less wasteful than cutting out midsoles and tossing the leftover material, and potentially more cost efficient than purchasing pricey molds.

While the result is lighter than previous designs New Balance has tested, it's largely focused on durability.

"This project represents an unprecedented technical collaboration in footwear," says Sean Murphy New Balance Senior Manager of Innovation and Engineering. "To deliver this level of performance with a 3D printed component, we paired experts in running and biomechanics with leaders in plastics engineering, material development and generative design. These are the types of collaborations that will drive footwear design and manufacturing in the future."

New Balance has been interested in 3D printed designs for some time now. Back in 2013, it was the first athletic brand to have a track athlete, middle distance runner Jack Bolas, compete with 3D printed spike plates.

As for the new 3D printed running shoes, New Balance will debut them in Boston next year in April, followed by retail availability in select New Balance store locations around the world. As for customized designs for consumers, that will require a different process, one that's not so reliant on biomechanical measurements.