A 3D-printed midsole

The projected revenue increase demonstrates the continued adoption of additive manufacturing processes by footwear manufacturers. 3D printers have been available since the 1980s. However, many industries have only recently integrated 3D printing solutions into their production processes, as significant advances in machines, material, and software are not only meeting industry requirements but also enabling greater innovation with better performance production parts. Today many footwear companies use 3D printers to optimize design, prototyping, and full production.

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Footwear Manufacturing

In recent years, advancements in 3D printing technology are streamlining the manufacturing process. Footwear companies are leveraging 3D printers to optimize operations, enabling fully-functional prototypes and increased design freedom. 3D printing improves the footwear manufacturing process with greater automation, and 3D printed footwear is projected to globally generate over USD 1 billion by 2023 and USD 6.5 billion by 2029.

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Traditional footwear manufacturing is a time-consuming process that often limits designs. With high tooling costs and production limitations, initial designs, tooling, and prototyping can take months to complete and require significant investments. The final product design must fit the production method, and processes, like injection molding, can constrain the design. Products need to be developed so that tools can be built for mass production. Designers who work with injection molding must often reconfigure their product layouts to meet production criteria after the prototyping stage.

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Traditionally, a 3D printing process supported only functional prototypes or finished products. With advancements in 3D printing technologies and materials, the same machine and 3D printing process can produce prototypes and finished products. To scale, connected 3D printers can seamlessly print the same product at a 3D printing smart factory, making it easier to get a new product onto a production line for high volume manufacturing. Here’s an overview for getting a design into high-volume production with 3D printing.

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3D printing is a great way to enhance sustainability in footwear manufacturing

The short lifespan of footwear, especially running shoes, leads to large amounts of waste. Most shoes are non-biodegradable and end up in landfills where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. 3D printing can increase sustainability in footwear manufacturing and the final consumer product.

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3D printing, either in-house or outsourced to a contract manufacturer, helps footwear companies control costs, manage their risk, and create a broader range of higher quality products. If you’re looking to partner with a contract manufacturer or expand your existing footwear manufacturing operations, choose a partner or process based on 3D printing to help control costs and reduce risk.

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