By Sheri Kasprzak

HOBOKEN –– PEAK, the Beijing-based sports brand, is hoping to score with its new 3D-printed basketball boot.

The company said Tuesday it rolled out the Dwight Howard III-3D basketball boot at the 2017 PEAK China Tour. Named for the Charlotte Hornets center, the boot was created through selective laser sintering technology using thermoplastic polyurethanes. It features a lattice structure that has been shown to improve comfort and weight distribution.

“As a new prototyping and processing technology, 3D printing is of great significance to Chinese sports brands and the country’s Made in China 2025 strategy [which aims to emphasize innovation, quality, and green manufacturing over 10 years],” says Xu Zhihua, PEAK’s general manager.

The Chinese manufacturer is certainly not the first to produce 3D-printed shoes.

 

Image Credit: PEAK

Adidas, Nike Also Players

Back in April, Adidas debuted its Futurecraft 4D shoes, which feature a 3D-printed sole. While only 5,000 of the shoes were released this year, the company said it intends to produce more than 100,000 pairs by the end of 2018.

Adidas partnered with Silicon Valley-based startup Carbon to develop the Futurecraft 4D line.

In March, Under Armour released the ArchiTech Futurist, an athletic shoe with a 3D-printed midsole. Despite its $300 price tag, the design seems to be doing well. It’s currently sold out on the Under Armour website.

Nike partnered with HP back in May 2016 to produce a variety of shoes using SLS technology, including a custom track spike for sprinter Allyson Felix, as well as the Nike Vapor Laser Talon and Nike Vapor HyperAgility football cleats.

As for the shoes that bear his name, Dwight Howard says they’re “comfortable.”

“This pair of boots has obviously higher performance than traditional ones,” he said in a statement. “I felt that the 3D-printed soles and vamp side walls enable a more comfortable wearing experience. Maybe, one day in the future, you’ll see me wearing the 3D-printed basketball boots … during an NBA competition.”

 Not Just for Athletes

Even though athletic shoes are getting the most play in the media, 3D-printed shoes and insoles can also provide relief and support for people who struggle with foot discomfort. Diabetics, for instance, sometimes have a hard time detecting discomfort in time to avoid blisters or wounds.

Using a similar lattice structure as PEAK’s new basketball boot, researchers from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institutes for Mechanics of Materials (IWM) and for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) developed a 3D-printed insole for diabetic foot-care. The insoles are also manufactured using SLS technology.

“Digital foot mapping is already common practice,” IWM scientist Dr. Tobias Ziegler said in a recent Fraunhofer statement. “As part of this project, we have now also completely digitalized the insole production process.”

Each insole is custom-made for the patient.

Even though materials are an important aspect, optimizing three-dimensional structures is another significant consideration, the Fraunhofer researchers discovered.

“First, we think about structures––straight rods, crooked arms, or triangles, for instance––then we produce a computer model of them, key in the data for a particular material, and simulate how rigid the result is under pressure,” Ziegler says. “Where does an insole need to be soft or more rigid? By altering the structure type, we can precisely determine the rigidity of the insole.”

The research team used an application-oriented load simulator to determine which structures worked best to achieve the desired results.

So, whether you’re a three-point shot whiz kid or a commuter looking for a little more arch support, 3D-printed shoes could be the wave of the future for a wide range of orthopedic needs.