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Last night adidas officially introduced its new Futurecraft 4D sneaker to the world. The German brand is naming this the first performance footwear made with light and oxygen by way of Digital Light Synthesis, a technology pioneered by Carbon.

But the terms are a bit confusing, so what exactly is Digital Light Synthesis, and why is adidas using it?

With this new technology, adidas is aiming to improve footwear performance for different sports by re-considering the sole unit. Seeing as midsoles cannot be injection or compression-molded in one piece, the athletic company has in turn shifted its focus to 3D printing midsoles, although 3D printers are not generally designed for manufacturing scale.

This painstaking process previously involved wasting substantial materials, in addition to being a noticeably slow undertaking. To overcome such restraints, adidas ultimately looked to the aforementioned Digital Light Synthesis from Carbon, a factory-ready 3D printing method.

“With Digital Light Synthesis, we venture beyond limitations of the past, unlocking a new era in design and manufacturing,” says Eric Liedtke, adidas Group Executive Board Member Responsible For Global Brands. “One driven by athlete data and agile manufacturing processes. By charting a new course for our industry, we can unleash our creativity- transforming not just what we make, but how we make it.”

Thanks to Carbon’s innovative process, adidas was able to iterate over 50 different lattices for the midsole before landing on the current design. Given these many samples, adidas was able to test midsole performance in the design stage as well, making prototyping virtually obsolete.

Furthermore, Carbon established an incubator factory at its headquarters to develop and test a printing method as well as the materials for the Futurecraft 4D. Here, Carbon came up with a full print and post processing solution, validating the design before the equipment even arrived at adidas’s factory.

Carbon’s programmable liquid resin platform uses light to create the shape of the sole, then uses heat to set it, allowing the team to create a print from scratch. In addition to saving on cost, the method also significantly reduced manual post-processing steps of traditional manufacturing.

Upon gathering feedback from each iteration, Carbon was able to develop an elastic material for the Futurecraft 4D midsole, which is stiff but resilient, creating a high-performance midsole with optimum energy return. Lastly, Carbon worked alongside adidas to produce the color of the material that would match the signature linen-green shade of the launch shoe, which was chosen by adidas’s design team.

We also got in touch with adidas so they could provide a simpler breakdown of the technical process: “In general it is a photochemical process. It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin. As a sequence of UV images are projected, the part solidifies and the build platform rises. Oxygen inhibits the photochemical reaction so that there is always a thin, liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printing part.”

The shoe is set to launch in April in numbers of 500, before a Fall 2017 launch with numbers up to 5,000. adidas is also rumored to be releasing another Parley for the Oceans collaboration. Stay posted for more information as it arrives.

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