In yet another example of the rapid changes in sports-footwear manufacturing, Reebok has unveiled what it described as its Liquid Factory, producing a three-dimensional plastic web that wraps around the bottom of a shoe. The production is robotized and does not require the molds that form a substantial part of the cost and delays in standard shoemaking.
Reebok says the technique uses 3D Drawing, in which a proprietary liquid material produced by BASF, the German chemicals company, is used to clearly draw the shape of the part. A video accompanying the launch shows a machine squirting the liquid onto a plate, almost like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, to precisely draw a three-dimensional component.
It has been developed through the Future at Reebok division, which is dedicated to innovation projects and is headed by Bill McInnis, a former aerospace engineer. He explains that the team managed to program robots to create the shoe component made from liquid material and attached to the outsole.
Reebok describes the material as high-energy liquid, boasting that it performs much better than a typical rubber outsole. The company adds that the resulting shoe provides a three-dimensional fit, since the material wrapped around the bottom can be adjusted more or less tightly. The first concept shoe to come out of this manufacturing process is the Reebok Liquid Speed, which the company is releasing in a limited edition of 300 pairs.
The small run was assembled in the U.S., in a three-way partnership between Reebok, BASF and the Rampf Group, although final assembly took place at the Reebok brand's head office in Canton, Massachusetts. The company intends to open its own Liquid Factory manufacturing lab in partnership with the AF Group in Lincoln, Rhode Island.