Following the success of the first 3D printed sneaker produced using the TripleCell platform—the 990 Sport—partners New Balance and Formlabs have debuted a second sneaker model, the FuelCell Echo Triple. The new running was produced using the innovative footwear 3D printing platform, which combines Formlabs’ stereolithography (SLA) technology with the custom Rebound Resin.
Formlabs and New Balance first partnered in 2017 with the goal of creating a 3D printing production system specifically for footwear. After a couple of years under the radar, the two companies resurfaced in June 2019 with the launch of the TripleCell platform and the 990 Sport. After the $185 sneaker sold out in stores across the U.S., the partners confirmed they were onto something and prepared to launch their next 3D printed product, the FuelCell Echo Triple.
On the rebound
The key innovation behind New Balance’s 3D printed shoes is the Rebound Resin material, which was co-developed by the sportswear company and Formlabs. The material combines a number of beneficial characteristics for running shoes, including springiness, support and durability. Notably, the material is well suited for producing a number of shoe components. In the case of the 990 Sport, for instance, the heel was 3D printed using the TripleCell platform.
In the new FuelCell Echo Triple, however, the material was used in the forefoot of the shoe. Specifically, New Balance 3D printed lattice structure for the shoe’s forefoot using Rebound Resin to quite literally boost the wearer’s performance. New Balance will continue to explore how the material and 3D printing can be used to produce other elements of its shoes.
“Rebound Resin was custom made to resist the daily wear and tear faced by an athletic shoe,” said Katherine Petrecca, New Balance General Manager of Footwear at the Innovation Design Studio. “Shoe materials experience a variety of environments, with the additional need to withstand various levels of pressure thousands of times per day. Designed to create springy, resilient lattice structures, Rebound Resin has a much higher energy return, tear strength, and elongation than any other Formlabs material.
“Rebound Resin is strong enough to be used in gaskets, seals, and automotive interiors, but light and flexible enough for the sole of a shoe. New Balance has exclusive rights to use Rebound Resin in footwear, but the material was designed for a wide range of applications.”
Though it may not seem as demanding as developing a material for an automotive application, for instance, creating a 3D printable resin for footwear was no walk in the park. Elements like performance, comfort and support were paramount in the creation of Rebound Resin.
“An athletic shoe is a workhorse, it has to last for several hundred miles of repeated impacts,” Petrecca added. “It has to work for a 110-pound female runner like Jenny Simpson and a 230-pound basketball player like Kawhi Leonard. They see heavy outdoor use, need to be stable for UV and hydrolysis, and withstand heat tunnels in the manufacturing process to bond to many other materials.”
3D printing is not only enabling New Balance to stay up to date on trends in the footwear industry, it is actually allowing it to streamline and localize its footwear production. That is, the TripleCell technology is enabling New Balance to increase its advanced shoe production at its facility in Massachusetts. By looking towards local American production rather than full outsourcing, New Balance believes it can insulate itself against “international volatility” and create new jobs at home. Moreover, the footwear giant says it now has the opportunity to shorten the feedback loop by having design and manufacturing teams working more closely together.
“By eliminating molds, we can save months of development time,” Petrecca elaborated. “TripleCell technology makes it possible to easily produce multiple designs at the same time, reinventing the traditional iterative testing approach. We had the ability to generate and edit thousands of options before landing on the high-performance, running-focused structures you see today.”
Following the launch of the FuelCell Triple shoes, New Balance and Formlabs will continue their 3D printed footwear collaboration and deepen the exploration of applications for AM in the field. Next year, for instance, New Balance plans to scale up production of the TripleCell collection.
“TripleCell is on the forefront of a broader industry shift,” Petrecca concluded. “This is just the beginning, 3D printing is going to reshape how we all think about the design to manufacturing process for products. Formlabs has been an integral partner in this process, expect to see more from this partnership in the near future.”