You might not have heard of TripleCell just yet, but trust us, it’s going to kick up a storm in the sneaker world when it goes mainstream in a few years.
Developed by New Balance and Formlabs, TripleCell is a beyond foam structure built up in intricate, spring-like layers. It delivers astounding rebound and bounce, with greater cushioning than the foam alternative without sacrificing durability.
Here it is, visualised:
Rather beautiful, isn’t it?
The platform itself is 3D printed on the Formlabs Form 3L, through a collaboration between New Balance and Formlabs established in 2017. This was the first time New Balance had brought resin-based 3D printing to its operation. The two teams have worked closely together end-to-end, to develop a production workflow and an all-new resin called Rebound Resin.
Rebound Resin is a New Balance exclusive resin, designed to be super-springy but resilient. It has a much higher energy return than foam and greater tear strength. It also has greater elongation than any other Formlabs material before it.
“The TripleCell 3D printed components deliver more lively, spring-like cushioning than you’ve ever experienced in foam, with the ability to ultimately be produced on-demand in our own facilities in Massachusetts,” said Katherine Petrecca, New Balance General Manager of Footwear at the Innovation Design Studio.
3D printing has enabled New Balance to take a new approach to product development too. The majority of the foam used in sneakers today is inherently flawed. The springier it is, the less durable it tends to be, shortening the lifecycle of shoes for the end-user. Which is great for selling more and more shoes, but not so great for developing good ones.
Traditionally, sneakers are made through variations of injection or compression moulding. These legacy techniques work just fine, but they limit design possibilities. Additive manufacturing has freed New Balance’s development team from their shackles, accelerating innovation in the process.
“What we could do to date is engineer the outside of the shoe and rely on the inherent properties of the material to provide all the performance benefits we’re looking for. Any degree of what you could consider customization is disparate pieces of foam glued or moulded together, with a lot of assembly steps on the back end,” said New Balance Senior Additive Manufacturing Engineer Dan Dempsey. “Using additive manufacturing, we can essentially vary the lattice structure to really change localized properties inside of a single form, giving us the ability to engineer throughout the entire volume of the shoe; we can design a system from the inside out.”
Rather than just rehash existing sneaker platform designs, New Balance decided to go all the way and develop an all-new platform structure. 3D printing with a suite of Formlabs printers allows for the design and manufacture of the entire part.
The Future is Bouncy
Small scale manufacturing for New Balance sneakers with the TripleCell platform is already underway, starting with the limited edition 990S TripleCell shoe. TheFuelCell Echo with TripleCell forefoot will be following in fall 2019.
“The traditional timeline for our product cycle from paper initiation to delivery in the market is 15-18 months. And when we’re building tools and waiting for foam or rubber parts, we’re looking at 4-6 week lead times.” Petrecca said. “By eliminating moulds, we can save months of development time. 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.”
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Formlabs, who developed and manufactured Rebound Resin alongside New Balance, and New Balance’s extensive testing, TripleCell is already a finished product and is ready for mass production right now.
Next year, New Balance plans to scale up production to over 10,000 pairs per year – that’s a huge amount of shoes and a huge amount of additive manufacturing. But New Balance is confident they can achieve desirable results even as they scale.
“Where we are now is just a testament to the work we’ve done in-house and the external partnership with Formlabs that have really been able to move our program forward,” Petrecca said. “We’ve demonstrated that we are able to scale up additive manufacturing and have it make sense for a production environment. As far as where we go next, the sky is really the limit.”
3D Printer: Formlabs Form 3L (lots of them)
Materials used: Rebound Resin (New Balance exclusive)
This information was first published on the Formlabs website.
You can check out more manufacturing case studies like this one here. All images are credit to Formlabs.