We tend not to write articles in the first person on 3D Printing Media Network, however, I will make an exception in this case, as I’m writing about my latest project: the new edition of my study on footwear additive manufacturing, which was just published by SmarTech Analysis. In this new footwear AM 2020 report, I looked at the latest trends in terms of hardware technologies, new materials and new applications of additive manufacturing for footwear serial, mass and mass-customized production.
Thanks to contributions from some amazing companies and designers (Voxel8, voxeljet, ECCO/Quant-U, Prodways, Kings3D, and footwear designer Nolan Kim above all but many others as well), I found a segment that is extremely dynamic, with serious and commercially ready AM applications in midsoles, insoles and uppers, that have led me to forecast a total market that could near $9 billion in yearly revenues (including all AM hardware, materials and applications) by 2030.
These contributions, together with extensive research, helped to further evolve my forecast mode, which I had already developed for the previous edition of this report (published just a little over a year ago). That first edition already went a long way into describing the market, its technological and some of its geographic trends. But a lot has happened since – even more than I had initially expected – and this new report reflects a much more “practical” and sustainable approach by many stakeholders in the AM and in the footwear segment.
In the report I provided a deep dive into the revenue opportunities offered by the global footwear segment, reflecting advances where 3D printing is impacting footwear production: prototyping, tooling and final parts. I also include an updated analysis of how AM hardware, AM materials, AM service and AM software are impacted by the evolving footwear industry scenario.
All key operators in this segment have been identified and classified, all major technologies and all AM material classes have been analyzed for their potential on footwear part production in order to assess the associated revenue opportunities from all angles. Among these, I profiled the key manufacturers involved in the 3D printed footwear revolution including (and not limited to): Carbon, voxeljet, HP, Voxel8, Kings3D, Formlabs, Stratasys, 3D Systems, EOS, Prodways, BASF, ECCO, German RepRap, Adidas, Nike, Reebok, New Balance, Under Armour, Timberland. I conducted extensive interviews with many of these key market innovators in order to provide this most up-to-date market scenario.
Some key findings:
WIthin the expected $9 billion revenues generated yearly by 2030, applications, in general, are the main revenue generation opportunity, with end-use parts representing nearly half of all footwear AM associated revenues by 2030. In a consumer business segment, applications have the opportunity to truly scale, if hardware will be able to support higher productivity. Photopolymerization – such as that used by Carbon and adidas on midsoles, but also for many tooling and molding applications – remains the most relevant AM technology in the footwear industry and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future and thus the entire forecast period. The reason why photopolymerization is so dominant in this segment is that it offers several different technological alternatives which cater to multiple key footwear applications.
The improved ability to effectively 3D print thermosets by extrusion technology may be one of the most significant new trends that have emerged and consolidated over the past year. However, as we saw in the previous chapter, the market for footwear AM is still—and is expected to continue to be—very much dependent on industrial vat photopolymerization and polymer powder bed fusion technologies. In both cases, the key materials for end-use applications are modified polyurethanes. In powder bed fusion the most widely used material is expected to be thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
Market dynamics for AM production via external 3D printing service providers in the footwear segment are constantly evolving. In the beginning—when the segment was almost entirely concentrated on custom insoles production, specialized “application-agnostic” AM service providers proved to be the primary solution for production requirements as they possessed the knowledge and the machine park to meet small-batch mass customization demands.
Finally, despite the considerable potential for 3D-printed footwear, there remain challenges. High volumes are possible in this business, but this fact also creates a need for automation in the “shoe factory of the future.” Also important is the need to fully exploit the geometric and performance benefits enabled by AM technologies. This will potentially involve the use of advanced CAD/CAE software. It is now possible to design optimized lattice structures for midsoles that can be effectively produced only by 3D printing. Now, production teams can create prototypes rapidly on-site for instant feedback, significantly streamlining the concept creation process. Additive manufacturing is transforming the overall design process for footwear.