6 Questions on Futurecraft 4D With Adidas’ Eric Liedtke

Adidas is pushing the innovation envelope with Futurecraft 4D, and debuted the advancement on Thursday night in New York City via functional performance running footwear.

With the help of the tech company Carbon, Adidas expects to have more than 5,000 pairs of Futurecraft 4D sneakers — boasting midsoles made with light and oxygen — in retail for fall ’17. Its plan beyond the season is to make more than 100,000 pairs of performance footwear using this process by the end of 2018.

After unveiling the Digital Light Synthesis-made sneakers, Eric Liedtke, Adidas Group executive board member for Global Brands, spoke with Footwear News about the technology’s durability, if it will yield products accessible at all price points, and if the technology can be used to make other products.

Footwear News: How durable is this technology?
Eric Liedtke: The feedback we’re getting is outstanding. We would never bring a subpar product out; we have to have the quality that the consumer is used to. No one is going to bring me a shoe that’s not going to be as durable as we’ve ever done, if not more so.

This product is ultimately tunable. The dream is you won’t even need an outsole because you could tune the outer layer of the resin to be that stiff. The way it’s created from light and oxygen through software design, you could get down into the individual component cells and adjust the strength, durability and the shape.

Adidas Futurecraft 4D
Adidas Futurecraft 4D sneakers.
CREDIT: Peter Verry

What is 4D?
EL: 4D is new, that’s why we came up with it. We don’t this to be a 3-D printing thing because it’s not a 3-D printing thing. 3-D printing is additive production or reductive, it’s messy and it’s wasteful. This is not messy, nor wasteful. This is such a radical departure from 3-D printing, and what’s it’s doing you’re basically taking rapid functional prototyping and taking it right to manufacturing, and nothing has happened in this field before.

We investigated this and we got excited about this because of the potential. Because it’s software driven, because it’s data driven, we can go out and make a product like we showed tonight which will be based on the data we’ve collected of 17,000 runners. Or tomorrow — and I’m using tomorrow as a euphemism — we’ll make you a shoe and me a shoe, it will look the same but will be completely constructed differently based upon our data and how we run.

When could this production be commercially viable to all levels of consumer?
EL: We’re doing 5,000 pairs this fall and next year we’re going to do a couple hundred thousand, so to me it’s not an idea — we’re going. That’s the difference between 3-D printing, that’s something out there in the toyland; we’ve gone from toy to tool. If you could get access to a couple hundred thousand pairs that’s for every consumer then, right? So we’ll sell it like we sell everything else.

Any new innovation is going to start at a premium level; today it’s at a certain level, tomorrow it’ll be at a different level. We all want to get to a mass volume opportunity, and there’s no reason that we can’t. We can very much envision this to be part of our Speedfactory in Atlanta and more.

Eventually, how much of the footwear Adidas produces be made with this technology?

EL: I can’t say that because right now we do 350 million pairs a year, but we dare to dream. The future is unknown, that’s what’s cool about coming to work every day. We will try like hell to get it to a 350 million pair level, but we also want to be realistic.

Eric Berry NFL Adidas Futurecraft 4D
A cast of NFL star Eric Berry made with Futurecraft 4D technology.
CREDIT: Peter Verry.

Can this design be transferred to all products Adidas offers, including apparel and accessories? Or is this best, and only, suited to footwear?
EL: These face casts, they were done by the same process, so this can do anything. It can do these little squares, it can do balls, it can do anything we want. Ultimately, could you make a soccer ball out of it? Why not? I would never doubt this innovation because it’s smart technology, it’s constantly learning.

How does this tie in to Adidas’ focus on sustainability?
EL: These guys are the best engineers in Silicon Valley right now, you see the brain on these Carbon guys. They just need a problem to work on, they want hard problems to fix. So sustainability and lessening our footprint is a big problem to fix.

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