The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Can 3D Printing Customize Your Track Shoes? New Balance Thinks So

Posted by on Thursday, March 14th, 2013

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3D printing is another one of those new technologies that really riles up the science-fiction obsessed 13-year-old in me. With these machines you can “print” pretty much any shape from a digital model. It seems like you can make almost anything on those things: clothing, construction materials, car parts, dental and medical instruments, and weapons (one 3D printer enthusiast actually printed out all of the parts of a gun, assembled it, and shot some 3D printer bullets!) You can even use a 3D printer to make another 3D printer. Over the years, the price of these machines has fallen dramatically, like it has for many other types of technology. So now, regular, mildly well off people can have 3D printers in their homes. It’s like the replicator on Star Trek that can synthesize any food from molecular components. I really think these things could revolutionize the way we live and our consumer habits. Why buy a can opener when you can make one in your home office?

One increasingly common use of this technology is in shoe manufacturing. It’s the perfect place for a machine that synthesizes parts out of rubber and plastic. Shoes are made of the stuff anyway. One of the biggest problems is the athletic shoe world is creating shoes that cater to a person’s feet. Orthotics only go so far. Athletes want total customization in their shoes, and New Balance thinks it can use 3D printing to deliver just that.

In a press release, New Balance said it has “developed a proprietary process for utilizing a runner’s individual biomechanical data to create hyper-customized spike plates designed to improve performance. The process requires race-simulation biomechanical data which the New Balance Sports Research Lab collects using a force plate, in-shoe sensors, and a motion capture system. Advanced algorithms and software are then applied to translate this data into custom 3D printed spike designs.”

Today, the cost of these customized kicks is prohibitive for most people. Only elite athletes are able to afford such high-tech equipment. But as the prices for 3D printers and their associated accessories drop (following an obvious established trend) more and more of us will be able to take advantage of total customization. Gone will be the days of struggling to find shoes that suit your particular running style and foot anatomy. Gait analysis and foot molding will be part of the manufacturing process. There will be a brave new world of shoe buying. Mark my words: this is coming!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.