Voxeljet, a company I have mentioned in the past, is producing footwear with the help of AM materials and systems. Their newest product is the Coral Runner which is a printed sneaker made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Voxeljet’s plan is for their shoe to help with three challenges the shoe industry is facing. Individualization, where customers share the value of customized shoes that almost perfectly fit their needs. Sustainability, with the market demanding more easily recyclable materials. And lastly, automation, where small quantities may be affordable and effectively produced. The Coral Runner emphasizes innovation and customizability. The shoe’s inspiration came from coral, which builds itself through additive sedimentation. The advantage of 3D printed shoes is both on-demand manufacturing, and the one-to-one transfer of the digital model to a real object.
Choosing TPU to use as the material made sense, because it can be very soft and elastic, or very hard and durable. Specific build areas may be dyed more deeply by specifically controlling the volume of the absorber into the powder bed. By using industrial inkjet print heads, it is thus possible to print different grey scales within one layer, establishing different properties in each layer. Voxeljet is working to combine the customizability of older forms of shoe production with the mass production models of twentieth-century consumerism.