Footwear Manufacturing Technology: Benefits of Smart Factory 3D Printing

3D printing has transformed manufacturing across many industries by increasing production agility and expanding design flexibility. Although 3D printing innovations have transformed processes in a variety of industries, many footwear manufacturing companies have seen significant benefits from partnering with Smart Factory 3D Printer providers that have the potential to transform the industry as a whole.

Because shoes consist of many parts, footwear production historically demanded a large labor force with each component produced individually, typically through injection molding. Unfortunately, injection molding production brings a number of constraints including high costs, labor-intensive development, and minimal to no customization flexibility.

Smart Factory3D printing enables companies to reduce labor steps, increase design freedom, and create opportunities for customization—here’s how:

3D-printed sole

3D-Printable Shoe Components

Coupled with strong and versatile 3D-printable resins, Smart Factory 3D printers can produce the vast majority of shoe parts without any need for tooling, while still meeting the mechanical demands of modern footwear. For example, materials like EM⁺23 perform at a higher level than traditional shoe materials, such as EVA foam. Tests show that footwear made with EM⁺23 can withstand more than one million heel strikes at 4x bodyweight without a decrease in performance. In comparison, EVA foam begins to experience compression set and rebound degradation at much less than one hundred thousand heel strikes.

Smart Factory 3D-printed footwear offers extensive benefits beyond product longevity, as well. From a manufacturing perspective, Smart Factory 3D printers can improve the production of the following shoe parts:

  • Upper: In order to create conventional uppers, workers generally cut apart textiles and combine the pieces. The assembly process often utilizes a combination of gluing and stitching, requiring a high level of manual labor. Utilizing Smart Factory 3D printing technology enables companies to simplify their processes by consolidating upper components into a single design. 3D printers can then print the upper as a single piece, minimizing assembly and labor needs.
  • Heel: Advancements in athletic footwear center around reducing product weight while maximizing performance, particularly through the use of 3D printed lattice heels with high-performance elastic resins like EM+23. 3D printed lattice structures provide a high degree of stability without adding weight to the shoe. However, due to the inherent complexity of lattice structures, it is nearly impossible to create them using conventional methods. On the other hand, Smart Factory 3D printers excel at printing geometrically complex designs, allowing designers to develop latticed heels quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Insole: Producing insoles, especially for medical use, requires the development of costly patient molds, hours of hands-on work, and the use of multiple materials. Smart Factory 3D printers digitize insole production to reduce labor and material needs. App-based digital scans and high-performance resins allow footwear companies to produce quality custom insoles for any shoe type, for a lower cost, in a shorter time frame, all while providing more durable support.
  • Midsole: In the athletic footwear industry, customized midsoles benefit runners who are looking to achieve peak performance. With Smart Factory 3D printing, designers can adjust shoe weight, material flexibility, and thickness to meet customer preference and complement foot dimensions for better performance.
  • Outsole: With traditional production, outsoles require a significant amount of tooling with limited-to-no alteration possibilities. In order to offer a comprehensive range of shoe sizes and types, companies must develop molds for each variation. Smart Factory 3D printers eliminate the need for tooling, enabling companies to produce outsoles efficiently, without the need for costly molds. 

How Footwear Manufacturers Can Use Smart Factory 3D Printers

The diverse applications provided by Smart Factory 3D printers empower manufacturers to enhance nearly every aspect of footwear production. Companies utilizing this technology improve sustainability, and significantly reduce labor and cost while bringing products to market much more efficiently. And, by providing the ability to customize designs for unique users, footwear companies gain a competitive advantage and are more likely to see customer satisfaction with their products. 

By integrating Smart Factory 3D printing technology alongside other footwear manufacturing technology, companies experience the following benefits:

  • A Streamlined Path from Prototyping to Final Design: Tooling molds can take months to develop, test, and manufacture. Companies using Smart Factory 3D printing eliminate tooling steps so that designers can focus on what they excel at — building prototypes. Smart Factory 3D printers can create multiple functional and aesthetic prototypes simultaneously in a single batch, allowing for broader innovation and the ability to gather customer feedback. With diverse prototype batches that can be produced quickly, manufacturers can gather the data they need to arrive at a final design rapidly. 
  • High Personalization and Customization: By eliminating the need for tooling molds, designers can adjust product dimensions and aesthetics at an individual level. Designers can opt to alter colors, graphics, textures, and structures to meet client-specific requests, without incurring a high cost or producing unnecessary waste
  • Localized Manufacturing: Given the significant labor demands of conventional footwear production, many companies outsource their production overseas. With Smart Factory 3D printing, users outsource their design to a smart factory that requires minimal labor and less equipment, enabling them to be located nearly anywhere. Footwear companies that utilize Smart Factory 3D printing technology can bring production closer to their target market.
  • Minimized Inventory Risks: Conventional production facilities often impose significant minimum order quantities (MOQs) on their partners to reduce investment risks and justify tooling costs. With high MOQs comes a risk of incurring overstock that won’t sell. Utilizing Smart Factory 3D printing technology allows companies to print the exact number of products they need, thus eliminating any costs associated with excessive inventory. 

Smart Factory 3D Printing: A Powerful and Accessible Footwear Manufacturing Technology

Smart Factory 3D printing gives footwear companies the ability to improve their manufacturing processes. The design freedom and versatility of Smart Factory 3D printers empower manufacturers to gain more control over production and expand product innovation. While industrial 3D printers like the Lux 3Li+ streamline the path from prototyping to production and provide instant access to scale, the industry-leading strength and resilience of today’s 3D-printable resins improve final product quality to provide a complete process overhaul, benefiting both the footwear organization and end product user. 

To learn more about footwear manufacturing technology or inquire about our smart factory 3D printing, visit our contact page or call (650) 336-0888.

Footwear Team