Consciously or unconsciously, over time, experts across industries have developed various products that sometimes reveal how nature inspires a 3D printing production. The latest example of such innovation is the Coral Runner shoe.

Designed by Singapore shoe designer Shun Pin Pek, the shoes reveal the designer’s environment and how it inspires him. No matter if it is objects, patterns or naturalistic elements he encounters in his day-to-day life.

Since his childhood he has been enthusiastic about the creation of products and studied product design at the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore. However, his experience at the Pensole Design Academy in Portland, USA helps him deepen his passion and know-how for footwear design.

In this specific case, as the name implies, corals have clearly inspired Shun Pin Pek in the design. Interestingly, the designer sees some similarities between the corals and 3D printing. According to him, the corals grow within the powder bed of a 3D printer, just as they would in their natural habitat.

Design and production

 With a design that looks very simple yet it is quite complex, the Coral runner shoe also addresses the current challenges of the footwear industry which are customization, sustainability and automation.  

To do so, Pin Pek finds in voxeljet’s VX200 HSS, the ideal production technology candidate. The polymer 3D printing process is based on high speed sintering technology. Not only does it work very fast with constant layer times but it it is also capable of processing a wide range of polymers.

The great advantage of 3D printing is both on-demand manufacturing and the one-to-one transfer of the digital model into a real object,” explains Shun Ping Pek. “While the Coral Runner could theoretically also be manufactured using conventional production techniques such as injection molding, this way would have been very challenging due to the consistent design. The HSS technology offers the ideal solution“.

The designer relies on Covestro’s TPU material, a well-known thermosplastic that is soft, elastic but that can also be very hard & durable. It has been utilized in the footwear industry for decades.

In a press communication, German manufacturer voxeljet explains that the production of this design has been made possible through the so-called grayscale printing. By specifically controlling the volume of the absorber jetted into the powder bed, certain construction areas can be dyed more deeply. The more absorber is jetted, the stronger the components become. By using industrial inkjet print heads, it is thus possible to print different gray scales within one layer and thus establish different product properties in just one layer. With regards to shoes, the sole can thus be perfectly adapted to individual tread patterns and cushioning requirements.

Both for the designer as well as for voxeljet the project has been a steep learning curve. Evaluating the maximum wall thickness was one of the biggest challenges to ensure sufficient flexibility of the shoe while reducing the weight and material required. However, this was quickly overcome through rapid digital adaptation of the design and subsequent 3D printing.

Shun Ping Pek is also satisfied: „I learnt that HSS technology allows for faster print when compared to traditional Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Taking into consideration on how the technology works, I am able to create improved functional designs. I believe with the increased efficiency of the technology, e.g. on larger platforms like the VX1000.“

This product of mass consumption has seen a surge in sales over the years. The focus on the sneakers reveals for instance that the worldwide turnover of sneakers has increased from 30.4 billion euros to 61.7 billion euros from 2012-2019 alone. There is no doubt this turnover will  increase with new designs achieved with 3D printing.

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