3D printing has been utilized by the clothing and fashion industry for a number of years, and New Balance is no stranger to the benefits 3D printing can bring to their footwear. Earlier this month, New Balance announced the release of the FuelCell Echo Triple which will feature a forefoot section created with a proprietary photopolymer resin called Rebound Resin. This resin, developed through a partnership with Massachusetts-based Formlabs, was “designed to create springy, resilient lattice structures with the durability, reliability, and longevity expected from an injection molded thermoplastic.”
The process of creating this section of the sole of the sneakers involves zapping the resin with a blue-light laser, which causes the resin to solidify, but only in the areas that were touched by the laser. The result is something David Lakatos, Formlabs’ chief product officer, compares to a “cellular sponge”. “Foam is a homogeneous material,” he says. “Here you have the ability to really design parts of the material, of the sole, that respond very differently than other parts of the sole.”
The primary appeal of this new material is that it maintains its springiness for longer periods. “The coveted rebound and energy return properties of the shoe won’t degrade as quickly as they would with foam,” Popular Science reports. To test the viability of the product, New Balance put the sole of the shoe through 20,000 compressions (approximately what the shoes would experience during a marathon) and found the forefoot maintained its cushioning properties.
“3D printing is changing how companies approach manufacturing, with this announcement New Balance is pioneering localized manufacturing,” Lakatos said. “By eliminating the dependence on molds and direct printing for both prototyping and production, their team shifts from months to hours in the development and production cycles. We’re moving towards a world where design cycles are closing in on the whim of the consumer and it’s exciting to be on the frontlines of this with New Balance.”