Reebok is taking a step towards U.S. manufacturing with the announcement of a new 3D drawing technique it claims will change the process and speed of footwear creation.
Liquid Factory, developed by the Reebok Future team, utilizes state-of-the-art software and robotics to literally draw shoes in three dimensions. The new technique uses a proprietary liquid material, created specifically for Reebok by BASF, to draw shoe componentry in clean and precise 3D layers.
Spearheaded by Reebok Head of Future Bill McInnis, a former NASA engineer, he claims Liquid Factory can create sneakers without the use of traditional molds, cutting on cost and improving speed to market.
“Footwear manufacturing hasn’t dramatically changed over the last 30 years,” said McInnis. “Every shoe, from every brand is created using molds—an expensive, time-consuming process. With Liquid Factory, we wanted to fundamentally change the way that shoes are made, creating a new method to manufacture shoes without molds. This opens up brand new possibilities both for what we can create, and the speed with which we can create it.”
By programming robots to draw in layers, Reebok says it’s created the first ‘energy return outsole,’ which it claims performs “dramatically better” than traditional rubber-soled shoes.
The first concept shoe born from this manufacturing process is the Reebok Liquid Speed, a running shoe that brings together an outsole and lacing in one piece, which Reebok says allows for superior sensory feedback on the foot.
Reebok is releasing the Liquid Speed with a limited edition 300 pair production run. Each of the 300 pairs is individually numbered, tagged and boxed. The shoes retail for $189.50 and are available now exclusively online through Reebok and Finish Line.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Liquid Speed shoe is its potential to bring Reebok manufacturing closer to home. The Liquid Speed shoe was designed and assembled in the U.S., created in collaboration between Reebok, BASF and RAMPF Group in Wixom, MI. Final assembly for the Liquid Speed shoe took place at Reebok Headquarters in Canton, Mass.
In early 2017, Reebok plans to open its own Liquid Factory manufacturing lab in collaboration with AF Group, Inc. of Lincoln, RI, although further details as to the size and scope of the factory were not revealed.
The move by Reebok comes as several footwear companies are assessing the potential of using automated robots in the shoe-making process, replacing the need for traditional workers. Reebok’s parent company, Adidas, is already investing heavily in automated footwear factories, including the recently opened Speedfactory in Ansbach, Germany.
“One of the most exciting things about Liquid Factory is the speed. We can create and customize the design of shoes in real time, because we’re not using molds—we’re simply programming a machine,” said McInnis. “Liquid Factory is not just a new way of making things, it’s a new speed of making things.”