Reebok Looks To 3D Printing 'Liquid Factory' To Regain Footwear Traction


Ever since Adidas AG(ADR) ADDYY acquired Reebok for $3.8 billion in 2005, the once-prominent shoe brand has struggled for to find its identity.

Reebok has since shifted into a fitness-oriented brand that aligns itself with emerging active trends, Cross-fit and MMA, and has done quite well in both segments.

Bill McInnis, a former NASA rocket scientist and Head of Future at Reebok, looks to take Reebok back on top of the shoe world with Reebok’s Innovation house, Reebok Future.

The Liquid Factory

Liquid Factory is Reebok’s first big push in 3D shoe manufacturing, as it looks to bypass the traditional use of molds to manufacture shoes. The technology also has potential to change where footwear is manufactured, prompting a shift away from Asia, to a ‘local for local’ model, i.e., made in the U.S. for the U.S., made in Europe for Europe. The liquid factory uses a new 3D drawing technique, bypassing traditional molds, to design shoes precisely in three dimensional layers.

“When you are doing something along the path of 3D printing, you can make one thing as opposed to thousands of things," McInnis recently told Benzinga. "Traditionally, 3D printing has been good at making one or two of something and not a lot of things, but we are now reaching a inflection point. Liquid factory was our way to take what we like about 3D printing, using materials that are right for manufacturing."

The Shoes

Reebok’s 3D shoes feature a polyurethane blend similar to that of a super-ball, to give the shoes incredible bounce. The material, developed exclusively by BASF, has twice the energy return of a typical running shoe. The company first did a limited release of 300 pairs that sold out almost immediately. Reebok is building a second generation that's expected to sell in the second half of 2017, with more releases in 2018 and a broad release in 2019.

“The idea of a project like Liquid Factory is that it doesn’t just move manufacturing a little, it totally changes how you make things, and where you make things. In doing that, that’s how you change the whole manufacturing dynamic of footwear,” said McInnis.

"Initially, 3D footwear will be a premium product, but once the process becomes easier for the consumer; there will be a move towards widespread adoption."

'Made From Things That Grow'

Similar to Adidas partnership with Parley to make 3D printed shoes from recycled ocean plastic, Reebok has its own environmentally-friendly initiative called Cotton and Corn, making shoes with materials entirely derived from materials that grow.

“This is really just the first step for us,” said McInnis. "With Cotton + Corn we’re focused on all three phases of the product lifecycle. First, with product development we’re using materials that grow and can be replenished, rather than the petroleum-based materials commonly used today. Second, when the product hits the market we know our consumers don’t want to sacrifice on how sneakers look and perform. Finally, we care about what happens to the shoes when people are done with them. So we’ve focused on plant-based materials such as corn and cotton at the beginning, and compostability in the end.”


McInnis continued, "The U.S. has kind of lagged behind other countries in adapting recycling and bio composting. For the cotton and corn initiative, it was about raising awareness of materials that stay in landfills forever and presenting our solution for it. So far the response was really favorable."

Cotton and Corn shoes from Reebok will be available later this year.

Reebok has a unique opportunity to take risks and utilize new technology to once again become a major player and innovator in footwear.

Related Links:

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Image: Reebok, YouTube

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