3D printed footwear will likely be the 3D printing application of the year in the consumer goods industry. The latest company to join the cohort of companies that operate in this field is UAE-based 3D printed footwear startup ELASTIUM. Founded in 2021 by engineer and tech entrepreneur Robert Karklinsh, the company unveils its first fully 3D printed sneakers made from 100% recyclable foam.
The footwear startup aims to develop functional, architected materials that will do what traditional materials cannot do. To do so, it combines lattice structures and foams to address the limitations of traditional manufacturing.
While foam is considered the most advanced materials used in the footwear industry, there is a short list of companies that are currently working on its applications with AM. They include for instance, Desktop Metal, EOS, OPT Industries, or PrintFoam. Interestingly in the footwear industry, sneaker brand Psudo is one of the rare brands that is utilizing recycled materials from scrap foam to fabricate its 3D printed shoes.
ELASTIUM would have developed its own process with elastomer foams that can be transformed into 3D printed shoes. Its sneakers feature lattice-structured low-density thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) foams processed by a patented granulate extrusion 3D printing technology. The company ensures that the shoes have the “same level of comfort and performance as traditional footwear,” in part as a result of lattice structures incorporated into the design.
“We are thrilled to unveil our world’s first fully 3D printed foam sneakers,” said Robert Karklinsh, founder and CEO of ELASTIUM. “Traditional shoe manufacturing is extremely slow, capital-intensive, and unsustainable. 22 out of 23 billion pairs of shoes produced each year end up in landfills, where they may take hundreds of years to decompose. At ELASTIUM, we are redefining footwear production making it rapid, on-demand, localized, and sustainable. We are also democratizing the footwear industry by providing a platform for individual creators and brands which will eventually make footwear production as easy as publishing an app on the App Store.”
The manufacturing process
While foam can also be 3D printed with FFF and SLA/DLP, ELASTIUM decided to use FLS-powered footwear with granulate extrusion. While it recognizes that the printing time should be improved, the company prides itself on gaining on other items like raw material cost (7$/Kg compared to 12$/kg for FFF and 35$/kg for resins), foam quality and recyclability.
“Fully 3D printed footwear (from thermoplastic materials) is also relatively easy to recycle. There is no glue involved. There is no need to separate different materials that make up a traditional pair. A fully 3D printed sneaker can be shredded into pieces and mixed up with virgin material in extruder to produce a new pair. To make fully 3D printed footwear mass adopted we need to produce at the same cost as Nike ($25 per pair). And our footwear needs to be as comfortable, light and durable as Crocs,” the founder explains.
ELASTIUM-1, the first pair of sneakers from the company is available in a limited production run of a 1,000 pairs with an “adjustable fit.” Buyers could also own their own shoe designs as an NFT. This means that they would own the design and could trade their rights of transferring the digital asset into the physical realm at any time. On paper, the 3D printed footwear is an interesting idea. Manufacturing wise – and providing that the end user is interested in the manufacturing proposition of ELASTIUM, the startup brings an addd value compared to other footwear brands. However, in reality, I am not sure yet about the potential of NFTs on the market.
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