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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Thursday 30 November 2017

A Timely Reality Check Landed in my Inbox Last Night

HP’s PR company, or at least one of them, sent me a press release last night. There is nothing particularly unusual in that activity but, even as I opened the email, entitled “Brooks, HP and Superfeet Are Partnering to Bring the Most Personalized Running Footwear to Life” I had a sense of deja-vu. As it turned out, the release was from Brooks Running Company and being distributed on behalf of HP due to the collaboration between the two companies. Skimming the press announcement, I’ll be honest, there may have been a couple of eye-rolls.

You may have seen the announcement of HP’s FitStation platform earlier this autumn/Fall across various tech media platforms, maybe even some 3D printing media, even though 3D printing only supplies a minimal (some may even say token) contribution to FitStation. Rather, the emphasis is very much on personalization and customization, enabled by 3D digital data capture techniques.

The concept of personalized footwear for high performance sports footwear is not new — in general or across the 3D printing industry. Nike’s personalized, part-3D printed football cleats — dating back to 2013 with numerous iterations since —were among the earliest. Reebok, Under Armour and others have subsequently followed suit with varied propositions for customized footwear for improved performance. Other footwear companies also emerged linking 3D printing footwear applications to improved comfort. I’m thinking of SOLS, but for just over a year, this company has changed direction the company’s focus is now on the digital data — its capture and translation to meaningful information.

It seems the economics of personalized footwear enabled by 3D printing are not that great. Some might point to the collaboration between Adidas and Carbon, which does illustrate a breakthrough in using 3D printing for high volume production of footwear, however in this case there is no personalization — essentially the antithesis of FitStation, the link being ‘footwear’ and, tenuously, 3D printing. I use the word ‘tenuously’ with intent here, because actually, the HP FitStation platform, as employed by Brooks depends most heavily “on a state-of-the-art DESMA polyurethane injection-molding machine” for production.

So reading the announcement from Brooks Running Company late last night, I got a couple of reality slaps:

Companies compete and they fight for market share and sometimes they use “me to” mechanisms to do that – whether that involves behind the scenes processes and/or application(s).

Another reality is that companies will work with the best tools for the job to maximize success and increase that market share and 3D printing often doesn’t make the grade. Like in this announcement from Brooks Running Co, in which there wasn’t a single mention of 3D printing (just 3D scanning and the importance of 3D digital technology). After initially wondering why I had been sent the PR (in this regard) I ended up being quite happy that they did — I needed this dose of reality. 3D printing technology is improving all the time, but for this application it’s not the best fit. Moreover, other production techniques (traditional or otherwise) are improving at the same time, like DESMA. Marketing language aside, no new “footwear” application is the same either — whether the focus is on personalization, comfort, high volumes, economics or any combination thereof — they each deserve to be assessed on their own merits and value to the end users. This is how applications develop and the real or perceived “me too” aspect is largely irrelevant.

I quite like being slapped in the face by reality from time to time — it’s a good thing, I think.

And with all that said, it seems right to take a closer look at what Brooks Running Company is doing, namely partnering with HP and Superfeet to leverage the FitStation platform and Brooks Run Signature to introduce a performance running shoe based on an individual’s unique biomechanics. FitStation is said to be a hardware and software platform that combines 3D foot scanning with dynamic gait analysis and foot pressure measurements that offers customers in-depth analysis to identify the unique motion path of the runner’s body and information about the desired running experience in order to create a one-of-a-kind holistic digital profile of an individual that combines personalized fit, biomechanics and experience.

The stated aim is to make the shoes available via special order through select retail partners beginning June 2018.

Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Running Company commented further on the aim and intent: “Brooks is committed to providing the fit, feel and ride each runner wants. The ability to give an individual a personalized shoe based on his or her unique biomechanics is a game changer. It is a compelling offering for the runner who is interested in tip-of-the-spear technology and a totally tuned experience. As part of our focus on reinventing performance running, we will continue to push the envelope to bring runners innovations that help them uniquely tailor their run.”

I’m not a runner, so I can’t comment from that perspective, but I do look forward to keeping tabs on this next year and hearing user feedback.

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