EYE ON INNOVATION: New Balance Steps Up With 3D-Printed Customized Soles

We’ve blogged about sneaker technology in the past, highlighting Converse’s new Chuck II shoe.

Photo: New Balance

Now New Balance is stepping up with a new concept for a shoe that uses 3D-printed midsoles customized to an individual’s stride.

As Wired recently reported, most running shoes have midsoles that are resilient but are typically just a uniform piece of rubber foam. This foam doesn’t really account for the fact that every person’s foot impacts the ground differently, such as mid-strike runners or those who land on their heels first, etc. Researchers at New Balance are looking to make a midsole that’s “both resilient and smart.”

Photo: New Balance

The shoe company is working with Boston-based design studio Nervous System to create a 3D-printed midsole that can be customized based on an individual’s stride. Wired: “The goal is to extend customization beyond aesthetics, creating a shoe designed with biomechanical data that gives its wearer an optimized running experience.”

This 3D-printed footwear appears to be a trend. Companies such as Nike, Adidas and Jimmy Choo are increasingly exploring the applications of additive manufacturing in their design processes, creating everything from 3D-printed football cleats to 3D-printed haute couture shoes.

New Balance’s 3D-printed midsoles are “squishy,” lightweight and strong, and made of DuraForm Flex TPU, a proprietary elastomer.

Still early in the process, it is unclear if customized soles will actually improve the running experience, and help with elements such as reducing injuries, speeding recovery and enhancing overall endurance.

Eye on Innovation is a weekly look at new technology, products and scientific advancements that we’ve mined from crowdsourcing sites and other corners of the Internet.

TIPS WITH TONY: Can 3D-Printed Parts Take the Heat?

Here’s a question that’s often asked: How do materials used in 3D printing compare to injection-molded thermoplastics when the temperature rises? To answer that, I’ll briefly dissect the materials used in stereolithography (SL) and selective laser sintering (SLS) processes as these are commonly compared to injection molding.

SL involves a thermoset resin that is solidified by an ultraviolet laser, followed by a UV post-curing process to completely solidify the resin. As far as material properties, the big takeaway is that SL parts are built from thermoplastic-like resins, so they do break down over time in direct UV light.

SL uses materials that mimic ABS, polypropylene and glass-filled polycarbonate, and they offer an array of material properties still exist. But today we’re concerned with the thermal properties of the materials that are best suited to handle the heat — 3D Systems Acura 5530 and DSM Somos NanoTool. Both are offered in post-cured states and there’s an additional process for thermal post-curing that increases the operating temperatures.

The chart shows optimal heat deflections for SL materials. The other materials offered in SL have a much lower heat deflection ranging from 120˚F to 177˚F.


UV Post-Cure

UV Post-Cure +
Thermal Post-Cure

3D Systems
Accura 5530

85˚C (185˚F)

250˚C (482˚F)

DSM Somos NanoTool

225˚C (437˚F)

263˚C (506˚F)

Continue reading

TIPS WITH TONY: Shedding Light on Clear Materials

Designing luminaires or lenses with clear materials? Our tip this week looks at the material selection and surface finishes available for prototyping and low-volume production of lighting applications.

Prototype built in clear WaterShed XC 11122 material with stereolithography.

Additive Manufacturing
If you haven’t considered using additive manufacturing (3D printing) for your lens design, you may want to check it out. Proto Labs offers stereolithography (SL) with three options for clear parts.

  • Somos WaterShed XC 11122 — ideal for lens and high-humidity applications
  • 3D Systems Accura 60 (10 percent glass-filled) — creates a clear part with slight blue tint and high stiffness
  • 3D Systems Accura 5530 — high temperature resistance, suitable for under-the-hood applications

TIPS WITH TONY: Additive Manufacturing for Microfluidics

Prototyping small volumes of microfluidic parts has traditionally been difficult using CNC machining or injection molding, but Proto Labs offers microfluidic fabrication through additive manufacturing (3D printing) for just this purpose.

Microfluidics typically requires very flat surfaces, and clear and thin/shallow features that are difficult to produce in a mold that is milled and hand polished. These tiny features are not easily distinguishable, requiring careful polishing and injection molding pressures can sometimes role the edges even further, not to mention the effect that the ejector pins have on the part surface. Ejector pins play a huge factor in removing the part from the mold and can cosmetically impact microfluidic parts that are molded. We will continue to injection mold microfluidics, but please first discuss these projects with a customer service engineer at Proto Labs.

Additive Approach
Additive microfluidics changes all of this as ejector pins are a non-factor. We use stereolithography (SL) to produce parts using an ultraviolet laser drawing on the surface of a thermoset resin, primarily our Somos WaterShed XC 11122 material. High-resolution SL is able to produce features as thin as 0.002 in. layers to provide the fine detail that microfluidics require. We recommend channel sizes of 0.025 in. square cross sections with a minimum wall thickness of 0.004 in. for X and Y dimensions and 0.016 in. for the Z dimension. Of course, we can produce features smaller than this, but it would need to be carefully reviewed by our engineers before the build begins.

Continue reading

Proto Labs Extends Additive Manufacturing Reach in Europe

Proto Labs’ corporate headquarters are in Maple Plain, Minn. (above). With the Alphaform acquisition, Proto Labs now has manufacturing plants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland and Japan.

Proto Labs closed this week on the purchase of select assets and operations of German-based manufacturer Alphaform AG, which significantly extends its additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities across Europe.

Alphaform is a leading service bureau headquartered in Feldkirchen (Munich), Germany. The purchase includes Alphaform divisions operating in Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom. This acquisition will significantly expand Proto Labs’ recently launched additive manufacturing capabilities in Europe by adding selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering and additional stereolithography capabilities. The acquisition also includes the injection molding service currently offered by Alphaform Claho, in Eschenlohe, Germany. MediMet Precision Casting and Implants Technology GmbH, a 100 percent subsidiary of Alphaform AG, is not part of the transaction.

Proto Labs entered the additive manufacturing market last year with the purchase of Fineline in Raleigh, N.C. Proto Labs is spending $25 million to expand that plant, which is set to open in 2016.

You can read the full press release here.