Boston runners will be able to buy the world’s first mass-market shoe with 3D-printed components starting in April.
After years of research and trial runs with elite athletes, Boston-based New Balance said Thursday that it would start selling shoes with 3D-printed midsoles next year, rolling the shoes out at Boston stores that haven’t been selected yet before making them available at other New Balance stores. The midsole is a crucial part of a running shoe that provides support and shock absorption.
Katherine Petrecca, New Balance’s general manager of studio innovation, said the breakthrough that made it possible to bring the shoes to market was the development of a specialized elastomeric powder that is melded into a solid by a laser and delivers the same level of comfort and performance as a standard, molded midsole. The shoes will cost more than a conventional pair, but running and fitness-tech junkies may be willing to pay that premium, Petrecca said.
Not every shoe will be unique just yet, either. New Balance is using one standard, honeycomb-like 3D printing template for now, Petrecca said, the shoes will be sold off-the-shelf. Individualized shoes are still a ways off.
“We expect to be able to bring that in a trial way to consumers in 2017,” she said.
The athletics company said it partnered with 3D Systems Inc. of Rock Hill, S.C. to develop the new powder. The shoes, which don’t have a name yet, will be manufactured at New Balance’s plant in Lawrence, Mass., where its 3D Systems printers use a laser to bond super-thin layers of powder into a solid. The machines can make up to eight pairs of midsoles per day, Petrecca said, which will keep production runs relatively small.
New Balance has been experimenting with 3D printing midsoles since at least 2013, and it also has printed custom spike plates that have better fit the feet of professional track athletes, soccer players, and baseball players.
This story was updated at 1:17 p.m. with new information.