At Carbon, our focus is to develop additive manufacturing solutions that empower our customers to build final production parts, taking into account end-user experience. Our philosophy of combining innovations in materials science, software, and hardware with the end-customer needs recently culminated in the development of unique elastomer lattice structures in the form of adidas midsoles. In this case study, we will share additional details on our lattice printing capabilities for creating customer-focused solutions using the adidas midsole as an example.
Digital Light Synthesis™ is a breakthrough additive manufacturing technology pioneered by Carbon that uses digital light projection, oxygen permeable optics, and Carbon’s programmable liquid resins. Carbon’s technology is changing the way high-performance, durable, final polymeric components, and products are being created. Not only does our technology allow for the production of end-use parts, but it also delivers unmatched speed, up to 100 times faster than other additive manufacturing processes.
Carbon’s technology is inherently capable of printing high-resolution parts with an excellent surface finish and isotropic mechanical properties. Our software leverages our M-series printers and our wide array of programmable liquid resins to print unique lattices (Figure 1) that can replace materials such as foam in headsets, shoe midsoles, and seating applications. What is especially unique is Carbon’s ability to design and make tunable lattices depending on customer application needs. Engineers for the first time can 3D print multiple unique functional zones within the same monolithic part and tune the mechanical properties within each of these functional zones depending on the application requirements.
Figure 1: Examples of Carbon’s lattice printing capabilities
CASE STUDY – adidas
Enthused by our ability to 3D print innovative lattice structures, adidas partnered with Carbon to develop a midsole that met the performance and comfort required by serious runners. adidas was seeking a platform that would enable them to tune cushioning properties throughout the shoe, and ultimately provide bespoke athletic footwear. With decades of experience and data on designing a midsole, adidas wanted to create something that would free them from the limitations of traditional footwear manufacturing. Traditional methods cannot deliver such complex, high-performance monolithic designs and typically require the assembly of multiple parts to create varying performance zones within a single midsole. This assembly approach leads to added cost, complexity, and quality concerns.
Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis™ technology helped solve all these challenges and enabled adidas to move into a new era of footwear manufacturing. The result is Futurecraft 4D (Figure 2). Together, we created a digitized footwear component creation process that eliminates the need for traditional prototyping or molding. Our technology also allowed adidas to create a monolithic midsole that addresses precise needs related to movement, cushioning, stability, and comfort. Further, over the course of product development, Carbon’s technology enabled adidas to execute more than 50 design iterations, a substantial increase compared with what is achievable with traditional molding in the same amount of time. Moreover, engineers from both companies collaborated closely and tested nearly 150 resin iterations.
The final midsole material is made out of a blend of UV curable resin and polyurethane. It is a stiff elastomer that can be printed in a lattice structure to create a high-performance midsole that also offers excellent durability and is aesthetically pleasing. This level of speed in design innovation and materials iteration is unheard of in traditional manufacturing and a testament to Carbon’s philosophy of creating new 3D printing solutions that take into account the end-customer experience.
Figure 2: An adidas Futurecraft 4D midsole printing on a Carbon M-series printer to include varying lattice structures along the midsole
Together, Carbon and adidas have pushed the performance function of footwear to a new level with the launch of Futurecraft 4D. The newly launched shoe has precisely tuned functional zones within the midsole (Figure 3). Notice how the midsole has different lattice structures in the heel and forefoot, to account for different cushioning needs for these parts of the foot while running. Carbon’s technology addressed all of adidas needs in one simple high-performance monolithic component. As adidas scales the production of these midsoles, Carbon will play a pivotal role in providing a better experience for athletes. In the long run, adidas and Carbon will be able to provide each athlete with bespoke performance products tailored to individual physiological data and needs on demand.
Figure 3: Multiple functional zones showing varying lattice structures within the same midsole
CARBON’S LATTICE INNOVATION BENEFITS
The Futurecraft 4D success is an excellent example of how Carbon’s approach to manufacturing is opening up limitless possibilities not only for adidas designers but also for product development teams in other industry verticals. For the first time, engineers designing for applications such as helmets, orthopedic cushions, car seats, bike seats, and headsets have access to a “tunable” lattice that can effectively replace or complement foam. Designers can now bring their most intricate lattice designs previously unachievable with traditional manufacturing into physical reality using Carbon’s tunable lattice innovation. Let us summarize some benefits of lattice structures possible using Carbon’s technology:
Carbon’s ability to create varying lattice structures (Figure 3) within the same part or component results in unmatched design. Previously, engineers had to combine multiple components to create different properties within a final part. This complexity requires additional design, tooling, and assembly resources and often results in quality issues. With Carbon, as highlighted in the adidas midsole example, it is possible to rapidly engineer lattice structures with varying mechanical properties and aesthetics all in the same monolithic part. This unique capability opens up new product design possibilities that in turn enables the creation of differentiated final products.
Carbon lattice innovation and resulting open-cell structure (Figure 1) enables customers to create final products with improved thermal characteristics. In applications such as seats, armrests, headsets, crutch-pads, and orthopedic supports for the back and neck, this breathability is especially useful in maintaining a comfortable temperature. Thermal control in these applications is essential for ideal end-user experiences, and heat dissipation via open-cell structures helps with that.
Cleaning materials such as foam is cumbersome. Additionally, water retention and slow drying with foam are not desirable. In contrast, applications using Carbon’s lattice structures are easy to clean, do not retain water, and can be utilized post-wash almost instantaneously.
Our adidas relationship illustrates how we combined Carbon’s unique lattice printing capabilities with adidas’s desire to design and print lattices. Now we can bring precisely tuned functional zones into midsoles, addressing specific needs of movement, cushioning, stability, and comfort, into one simple, high-performance component. Other applications mentioned in this case study such as bike seats, orthopedic pads, and headsets should only serve as starting point when product development teams consider Carbon’s technology to design new parts and products. We are hopeful that our ability to print tunable lattices using a wide variety of resins will serve the existing need for some product development teams who were actively seeking similar material properties while challenging others to find applications where the end user experience could improve by incorporating lattice structures into their products.
If you would like to learn more about how Carbon lattice innovation could help you to design and make differentiated products, please email us at email@example.com.