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Running / October 2016
Natalie Chladek, Global Newsroom

Welcome to the Shoe Revolution

Every athletic shoe on your foot, in your closet and in every store around the world is made the same way: rubber and cushioning material are placed into molds and heat and pressure are applied to create the sole. 

Until now. 

The Reebok Future team has created Liquid Factory, a new way to make shoes using innovative software and robotics to draw the outer sole in three dimensions.

The first product of Liquid Factory is the Reebok Liquid Speed, a running shoe that connects the sole and lacing together into a single piece for a custom fit and feel.  Reebok is releasing the shoe with a limited edition 300-pair production run at the price of $189.50 in honor of Reebok’s founding in 1895. 

Led by Bill McInnis, Head of Future at Reebok, the Future team has completely overhauled the shoe production process. 

For starters, inspiration began with the automotive industry.  At the heart of the innovation is a machine that is a combination of a 3-D printer and an industrial robot.  The machine uses a proprietary liquid to draw in three-dimensional layers, resulting in an energy return sole, the first real innovation in the process in many years. 

The Liquid Factory process also creates a stretchable cage connected to the bottom of the shoe that molds around the foot to provide an exact fit and a three-dimensional feel for the road. 

The traditional mold process is time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive.  Liquid Factory removes these production process problems and creates new opportunities for rapid customization and small batch manufacturing because it is based on programming instead of molds. 

“It has typically been cosmetic changes we can do quickly, now we can do functional changes as well,” says McInnis.  “We can dial in the cushioning, traction, durability, bounce and energy return to do exactly what we want based on the form of urethane that we use, how much of it we use and how we design it in three dimensions.”

Given the mandate of process-oriented innovation, the Reebok Future group approached the project with the mindset of revolution rather than evolution.  The goal was to fundamentally change the method with which shoes are created rather than developing the next iteration of shoes in their current model.

“When you’re tasked with optimizing processes and looking at new ways to make things, that sets you down a path to automatically divorce ourselves from the way that we already make things now,” says McInnis.

The first iteration of Liquid Factory is limited to the sole of the shoe, but the next steps would be to apply the same processes to the production of the entire shoe.  Instead of stitching the traditional leather upper panels together, the machines would draw the seams. 

“This is the first step in rethinking the entire shoe-making process,” says McInnis.  “We’re starting by attacking molds, but the goal of Liquid Factory is to attack the entire shoe-making process.”

If you could customize every part of your shoes what would you do? Tweet @Reebok and let us know!

Running / October 2016
Natalie Chladek, Global Newsroom