Fancy Footwork

Nike COO Predicts We’ll Be 3D Printing Sneakers at Home

3D printing sneakers

Looks like Kanye West is right to be afraid. Sportswear giant Nike reckons it won’t be long before we’re 3D printing sneakers in our homes.

3d printing sneakersNot so long ago, Kanye West admitted he was scared of 3D printing and the havoc it could wreak on the textile industry.

But other players in the sportswear and fashion biz are more optimistic about the technology, most notably Nike.

Nike COO Eric Sprunk was a guest at the GeekWire summit, where he spoke about the innovation in Nike’s Flyknit technology.

He also went on to discuss the way sneakers could be made in the future. Based on what Nike is already doing with Flyknit, Sprunk says the option for his customers to be 3D printing sneakers is not too far off.

The scenario he visualized goes something like this. Visit the Nike website, customize a sneaker to your specifications, and buy a file containing the instructions for the 3D printer.

If you have access to a 3D printer, you could print them yourself and have a boxfresh pair of sneakers in a matter of hours. If you don’t, you could take the file to a Nike store and have them print it for you.

However, this transaction would also entail using some heavy duty Digital Rights Management (DRM). As Sprunk elaborates:

“Do I envision a future where might still own the file, from an IP perspective — because it’s a Nike product; you can’t have just anybody make a Nike product — and you can manufacture that either in your home or we will do it for you at our store? Oh yeah, that’s not that far away.”

Knitted sneakers are one step removed from 3d printing sneakers

3d printing sneakersThe reason for Sprunk’s optimism is that the process that Nike uses to make the uppers on their Flyknit sneakers is only a few steps (excuse the pun) removed from additive manufacturing proper.

Previously, Nike would send a “tech pack” containing drawings, fabric swatches, and other specifications to a factory in Asia, where several workers assemble the sneaker by hand.

To make a Flyknit sneaker today, however, Nike just sends a file, and one person feeds the instructions into a knitting machine to create the shoe. One person is capable of operating several knitting machines simultaneously. Sprunk says:

“Shoes have been made the same way for decades and we wanted to bust that paradigm. This shoe shows how technology and digitization of our process makes a huge difference. ”

This dramatic shift in manufacturing technique is why knitted sneakers, sold by both Nike and Adidas, represent one of the biggest advances in footwear since cavemen first wrapped furs around his feet. And 3D printing sneakers is the next stage of evolution.

Other companies are exploring 3D printing footwear too. SOLS lets you buy 3D printed insoles, customized to your feet, right from a smartphone app

Of course, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. First things first, we need to reach a point where there’s a 3D printer in every home. Or the rise of services to make 3D printing readily available and at reasonable cost.

Secondly, the materials available to consumer 3D printers need to be expanded beyond plastic filaments. 3D printing sneakers would probably require several parts to be assembled, not least the upper, sole, and insole, and each has to be comfortable, durable, and stylish.

But when a major sportswear giant like Nike expresses confidence in 3D printing technology, it’s clear that a big change is coming. Are you ready for 3D printing sneakers at home?