BURLINGTON, Mass., USA - Speed matters if you're charging to the basketball hoop, sprinting for the tape or skating with style. Speed also matters if you're making the footwear for these purposes, which is why Converse uses 3D printing technology from Z Corporation to pump out bold new sneaker prototypes every night. Overnight prototyping helps the NIKE-owned shoe company, known for the time-honored Chuck Taylor All-Star shoe, put fresh new styles on the market while the trends are still heating up.

Converse says its ZPrinters can produce a shoe model in two hours, or nearly 30 times faster than an ABS printer. ZPrinting has also helped:

  • Eliminate eight annual trips to Asia for design consultations at a cost of up to $12,000 per person for each trip;
  • Cut tooling costs from $350,000 in 2006 to $150,000 in 2008 by using ZPrinted models to winnow designs; and
  • Transform the way the company does business by bringing 3D shoe models to key accounts and producing models on demand.

"We're seeing new prototypes in hours and cutting weeks off our design cycle," said Bryan Cioffi, manager of digital product creation at Converse of N. Andover, Mass, USA. "Last night's sketches become tangible color models that we can pass around at this morning's meeting. Our ZPrinter has become a prototyping center in its own right, and it's helping us get better products to market more quickly for less money."

The back story

When he joined the company in 2004, Cioffi's team actually bought two 3D printers for rapid prototyping. One of the machines was a Dimension, and the other was a 3D printer from Z Corporation. The Dimension machine quickly fell into disuse because it took 55 hours to print a shoe model. The ZPrinter takes two hours and can print five shoe models at once.

Prior to having 3D printers, Converse designers would communicate with one another and with Asian manufacturing partners via sketches or 2D images on CDs. Because of language barriers and the imprecision of sketched-out ideas, days would stretch to weeks and weeks to months before a design team would fly to Asia at $12,000 per seat to finalize an already expensive prototype.

Converse recently added the ZPrinter® 650 multicolor 3D printer. Its ability to print multiple prototypes in a single build enables the design team to see different form and color options and display them on a faux store shelf with other shoes. "So instead of waiting 50 to 60 hours for a plastic part or three weeks for a manufacturer to make a rough prototype, we do it ourselves in a fraction of the time," said Cioffi. "We've eliminated communication issues with our manufacturing partners, and the airfare savings alone have more than paid for the machine and materials. Now the design team prints prototypes internally every night and refines them the next day, continuing the cycle rapid fire until the design is perfect."

Converse shares designs with its overseas manufacturers by executing a print command on a 3D CAD model in its Massachusetts headquarters and having physical models come out of networked ZPrinters in Asia. This global collaboration eliminates any language barrier.

"Everyone wore Converse growing up, and the styles are fresh and exciting for the new generation," said Ed DeArias, Z Corporation vice president of global sales and services. "It's great to know that our technology is helping Converse significantly shorten its product design cycles, hit the market earlier, and expand their competitive advantage."

About Converse

Converse Inc., based in N. Andover, Massachusetts, is a wholly owned subsidiary of NIKE, Inc. Established in 1908, the Converse brand has built a reputation as "America's Original Sports Company"™ and has been associated with a rich heritage of legendary shoes such as the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe, the Jack Purcell shoe and the One Star shoe. Today, Converse offers a diverse portfolio including premium lifestyle men's and women's footwear and apparel. Converse product is sold globally by retailers in over 160 countries and through 35 company-owned retail locations in the U.S. For more information, visit Converse on the web at www.converse.com.

About Z Corporation

Z Corporation makes products that enable users to capture, edit, and print 3D data with unprecedented speed, ease, versatility and affordability. These products include the world's fastest high-definition 3D printers — machines that produce physical 3D models from digital data in multiple colors - and uniquely portable 3D scanners - handheld machines that digitize 3D surfaces in real time. Z Corp. technology is enabling a wide range of applications in manufacturing, architecture, civil engineering, reverse engineering, geographic information systems (GIS), medicine and entertainment.

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