Nike seeks to enable shoppers to 3D print shoes at home

October 13
9:39 PM 2015

How would you like your pair of sneakers made? Sure you can now have your trainers tailored according to color or design of your choice. But have you ever thought of having your shoes printed, either in store or at home?

With 3D printing, that is possible, according to Nike Chief Operating Officer Eric Sprunk. During a summit held by GeekWire recently, he said they are now moving towards developing a technology that would give people a direct hand in making their own shoes.

Right now, Nike is using a number of methods to simplify and speed up the manufacture of shoes. "We have a huge initiative in our company called manufacturing revolution. It's really just innovation in manufacturing. If you look at 3D printing, knitting, automation, robotics, motion sensing and cameras... now you can automate all of that," Sprunk said.

Nike now has footscanning technology and pressure mapping and detailed gait analysis that enable it to tailor footwear according to a customer's unique requirements. The company also has what it calls Nike ID which customizes color and design.

There's also Nike Flyknit, which simplifies the process for the manufacture of shoes. The technology weaves the sneakers' upper as a single piece, much like knitting a sweater. And since it's done by a machine, fewer workers are needed. In fact, feeding the instructions into the knitting machine requires only one person.

With 3D printing, the process is a lot simpler. First the customer goes to the Nike site to have his sneaker customized. After which, he buys the file with instructions for a 3D printer. With the file on hand, the customer can either print the shoes himself or head to the nearest Nike store and ask the staff to print them out.

The question is, can a customer own the file in perpetuity? Sprunk says no. "Do I envision a future where we might still own the file, from an IP perspective - because it's a Nike product; you can't have just anybody make a Nike product - and you can manufacture that either in your home or we will do it for you at our store? Oh yeah, that's not that far away."

It's a win-win situation for brands and customers alike. Customer satisfaction rises, and brands like Nike get to avoid wastage due to unsold products. The end-result is better bottomline for brands. And the environment benefits, too -- a huge score for socially-responsible companies.

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