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Shoemaking reconsidered: Under Armour reveals 3D-printed sneakers

Under Armour is turning to 3D printing to power the next revolution in sneaker technology. The company has been working on 3D-printed sneakers and recently announced that it is releasing a limited number of trainers for the consumer market. “A lot of competitors talk about it, but we like to get it done. We want to see what the consumer has to say,” said Under Armour vice president of outdoor and training footwear Chris Lindgren to Sports Illustrated.

Under Armour will release the Architect 3D-printed trainer this month to commemorate UA’s 20-year anniversary. In keeping with the anniversary theme, the company plans to release 96 pairs in recognition of the brand’s 1996 founding. Unlike competitors that are working on running shoes, UA decided to release a training shoe first because the company’s original focus was on trainers. UA also believes the flexibility of a training shoe will appeal to a wider variety of consumers who are looking for a shoe that can take them from the weight bench to the treadmill and back.

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Under Armour embraced 3D printing because the technology is changing the way sneaker makers create their shoes. Instead of using expensive steel molds and costly thermoplastic injection molding, with 3D printing, sneaker companies can prototype shoes quickly and affordably. When designing the Architect 3D, UA worked with over 80 athletes who tested and provided feedback on the shoes. UA produced an “innumerable” number of shoes that were used in over 120 hours of testing. This scale of prototyping and design would not be possible using the traditional molding process.

The Architect 3D is one of several 3D-printed models Under Armour plans to release in 2016. UA hopes to refine the 3D-printing process as it gathers feedback from consumers and will use this information to tweak future models. It also plans to expand the process to allow for on-the-fly customization by users who will be able to pick and choose designs as they create their perfect shoe.

Beyond the consumer market, UA hopes to combine scanning technology with 3D printing to build a shoe crafted precisely for an athlete’s foot size and forefoot shape and arch. The future is all about customization, and 3D printing allows the company to produce personalized shoes rapidly and with minimal expense.