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Reebok hoping to revolutionize shoe manufacturing at Liquid Factory

Reebok is leveraging 3-D drawing and robot technology to manufacture shoes without molds.

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Global fitness brand Reebok introduced on Thursday its new Liquid Factory, a manufacturing innovation that combines both robot technology and 3-D drawing to engineer unique pieces of footwear.

Developed by the Reebok Future team and led by head of future Bill McInnis, the Liquid Factory will use a proprietary liquid material to create shoe components without the use of traditional shoe molds, a process that Reebok hopes will “fundamentally” alter how shoes are constructed.

“Footwear manufacturing hasn’t dramatically changed over the last 30 years,” McInnis said in a statement. “[Liquid Factory] opens up brand new possibilities both for what we can create, and the speed with which we can create it.

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“With this new process, we were able to program robots to create the entire shoe outsole, without molds, by drawing in layers with a high-energy liquid material to create the first ever energy-return outsole, which performs dramatically better than a typical rubber outsole. The all new Liquid Factory process is also used to create a unique fit system that stretches and molds around the foot, providing a three dimensional fit.”

Added Reebok president Matt O’Toole in a statement: “The Reebok Future team was created to innovate not only the products we make, but also the process by which we make them. We’re looking at how we can bring speed, customization and enhanced product performance to the process of creating footwear—and Liquid Factory is a very exciting development in this area.”

The Reebok Liquid Speed, which was designed and assembled in partnership with BASF and RAMPF Group, is the first shoe from the new manufacturing process. The limited edition running shoe will retail for $189.50.

Through a partnership with AF Group Inc. of Lincoln, Rhode Island, Reebok will eventually open its own Liquid Factory manufacturing facility in early 2017.

“One of the most exciting things about Liquid Factory is the speed,” McInnis said. “We can create and customize the design of shoes in real time, because we’re not using molds—we’re simply programming a machine. Liquid Factory is not just a new way of making things, it’s a new speed of making things.”

Last month, industry competitor adidas had a similar line of thinking as it unveiled its first high-performance running shoe from the German SPEEDFACTORY, with the brand also touting manufacturing speed and the ability to give consumers shoes at almost an on-demand rate.