Since its beginnings in the 1980’s, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) has become an increasingly valuable tool for engineers and designers. By creating one-off parts layer-by-layer from CAD data, the technology allows engineers and designers to rapidly iterate on prototypes in a fraction of the time required using traditional manufacturing methods. Furthermore, this layering process allows for the formation of complex geometries and microstructures that were previously impossible to manufacture. Historically, additive manufacturing has been restricted to the R&D space due to its high per-unit cost, but recent advancements have made the technology feasible for mass manufacturing applications as well. Companies like Adidas are now turning to 3D printing to produce their next generation products, opening design possibilities that were previously unavailable with traditional manufacturing. As Adidas surveys the shifting landscape of manufacturing, they need to be thoughtful in the way they implement this new technology into their products in order to maintain a competitive advantage in the years to come.
In Adidas’ highly competitive world of athletic apparel, companies are constantly striving to find ways to improve the performance of their products. In order to facilitate rapid innovation, the product development cycle is continuous and involves multiple iterations. As Tony Bignell, director of Nike’s footwear category noted: “The process is dynamic, fluid, and evolving. Nothing ever stops; we just keep learning and innovating”. Rapid prototyping techniques such as additive manufacturing play a critical role in Adidas’ product development process. Designers can quickly prototype, test, and tweak designs without the high costs and lead times associated with full production runs. Without the rapid-prototyping ability that 3D printing affords Adidas’ product design team, they would quickly fall behind their competitors.
Adidas is investing heavily into 3D printing with its partnership with Carbon, one of the leaders in the additive manufacturing space. Carbon’s proprietary technology, Continuous Liquid Interface Production or CLIP, provides some major advantages over traditional additive manufacturing methods. Rather than creating parts in discreet layers, CLIP allows for parts to be formed in a continuous process, drastically reducing build time while improving the quality of the printed parts. This improved speed and quality has changed the paradigm of 3D printing : from a small-batch prototyping tool to a legitimate mass manufacturing process. Furthermore, because the process takes place in a liquid environment, it is well suited to produce porous lattice metamaterials which are perfect for soft shoe soles. Adidas is currently using Carbon’s technology to produce highly-tuned performance soles for its newest running shoe, the Futurecraft 4D. Although the use of 3D printing for mass-production is nearly unprecedented due to high perceived costs, Adidas claims that the shoe will become profitable once volumes hit 100,000 units this year. Adidas plans to utilize 3D printed materials into other products in the coming years.
Adidas should continue to invest in 3D printing technologies to bolster their brand image as the most innovative shoe designer in the industry. Products like the Futurecraft 4D will build excitement and bring new customers to the brand who are looking for the newest technology. Long-term, I believe that complete customization will be the next frontier for their business. Just as no two athletes are the same, additive manufacturing gives Adidas the ability to produce unique shoes for each individual. Each Adidas store could be outfitted with 3D scanners to generate 3D models of each customer’s feet. Software could then automatically design the perfect shoe sole for that individual, which could then be printed onsite. This ability to cater to the individual consumer will be what sets Adidas apart from its competitors in the future.
There are still some questions about the use of additive manufacturing that must be answered before moving forward. Should Adidas move quickly into additive manufacturing techniques or wait to see how the Futurecraft 4D performs in the marketplace? How should Adidas communicate the value of customization to its customers so that it is not perceived as merely a marketing gimmick? While additive manufacturing technology will clearly play a role in Adidas’ future products, the answers to these questions will determine what operational steps management must take to ensure the successful adoption of this exciting new technology.
 Wong, Kaufui V. and Aldo Hernandez, “A Review of Additive Manufacturing,” ISRN Mechanical Engineering Vol. 2012, 208760 (June 17, 2012)
 Ofek, Elie and Ryan Johnson. “Nike Football: World Cup 2010 South Africa,” Harvard Business School 9-511-060 (January 17, 2013), 3.
 Carbon Website: https://www.carbon3d.com/process/
 Patel, Dinesh K. et al. “Highly Stretchable and UV Curable Elastomers for Digital Light Processing Based 3D Printing,” Advanced Science News 1606000 (December 30 2016), 1.
 Andria Cheng, “How Adidas Plans to Bring 3D Printing to the Masses,” Forbes (May 22, 2018).
[F1] Wong, Kaufui V. and Aldo Hernandez, “A Review of Additive Manufacturing,” ISRN Mechanical Engineering Vol. 2012, 208760 (June 17, 2012)
[F2], [F3] “Carbon Lattice Innovation- The Adidas Story” from Carbon Website: www.carbon3d.com/stories/carbon-lattice-innovation-the-adidas-story/ accessed November 2018.