New Balance, much like Nike a couple of weeks ago, has brought 3D printing passed its prototyping processes and incorporated it into the manufacturing process — at least for one of its highly customized, low volume, track-specific running shoe designs. And once again, the 3D printed part of the shoe is on the sole — a spike plate that reportedly enhances performance and speed for the specific owner and wearer of the shoe.

The customization element of this running shoe from New Balance is extensive — the athletes are measured and monitored using 100 sensors to understand their precise running style, including the direction their foot travels as they run  (whether its forward or back, left or right etc.) and when, where and how they exert pressure during each step.  A motion capture system is also used to gauge stride and broader movement. The resulting biomechanical data — specific to each individual athlete — is then used to produce a custom spike plate for their running shoes.

For the foreseeable, there will not be very many of these shoes designed and made — they are for elite athletes only. Reportedly only those that New Balance sponsors such as 1500-meter World Champion gold medalist Jenny Barringer Simpson, 2012 US Olympian Kim Conley, 2012 British Olympian Barbara Parker and All-American runner Jack Bolas. However, Katherine Petrecca, Business Manager of Studio Innovation at New Balance has suggested this will change in the future, she said: “The technology is early and our implementation is still really in a very early phase, but you can envision as the technology improves and capacity increases — and cost comes down — the audience who will benefit from customization will just grow and grow and grow. This will get down eventually to the casual athlete.”

Image Credit: Associated Press/New Balance