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3D-Printed Footwear Could Become a $6.5B Industry in the Next 10 Years

With an eye on the future, footwear companies are likely to invest billions of dollars in 3-D printing technology and manufacturing over the next decade, with billions more in revenue up for grabs, according to a new report.

SmarTech Analysis released new findings Tuesday on the future of 3-D printing in footwear manufacturing. According to the report, the footwear industry’s interest in the technology will continue to grow, eventually accounting for $6.5 billion in yearly global revenue by 2029 at a compound growth rate of 19.5 percent.

Otherwise known as additive manufacturing (AM), 3-D printing holds a great deal of promise for footwear producers—along with those that provide brands with the technology required to properly implement it into their supply chains.

According to SmarTech, revenue from 3-D printed footwear currently represents roughly 0.3 percent of total global footwear revenue, but that number is set for growth.

“This value—which is inclusive of AM hardware, AM software, prototyping and tooling as well as end-use products related revenues—is expected to grow to about 1.5 percent of overall global footwear revenues by 2029,” the firm said in a statement.

Revenues associated with additive manufacturing in the footwear industry are expected to rise predictably over the next ten years.

The growth will not be relegated to what’s so far been typical of 3-D printed footwear, i.e. a croc-like slip-on made from a single piece of material that strongly resembles plastic or rubber. SmarTech says the market for 3-D printed footwear components will be the first to grow, including “additively manufactured insoles, midsoles and uppers.”

In fact, their analysts predict that individual 3-D printed footwear parts will generate $1 billion in revenue as early as 2023.

“Midsoles 3-D printing is expected to be the most significant revenue opportunity, generating as much as $1.5 billion by the end of the forecast period and growing at a 24% CAGR,” researchers said.

The biggest obstacles to growth in 3-D printed footwear are its dependence on 3-D data capturing technologies and the fact that most AM production has already been outsourced to Asia along with the majority of footwear manufacturing. However, SmarTech says brands will be more likely to bring production in-house as demand grows.

Additionally, the availability of AM materials (typically a powder) is likely to contract as interest in the technology increases, although the report anticipates that material prices will fall once the industry matures. Overall, SmarTech expects demand for AM materials to reach 3.7 thousand metric tons by 2029.

Regardless of the challenges involved in implementing the technology and creating a supply chain for its unique material needs, the advantages of 3-D printing are perfectly suited for the footwear industry, researchers contend. Already, brands consistently use 3-D printing to create prototype footwear during the design process, a trend SmarTech expects to grow over the decade.

“The 3-D printed footwear segment is expected to become the largest 3-D printed consumer product segment—along with housewares,” SmarTech said. “This is the only segment today where cases of mass production through AM processes have proven to be viable solutions and cost-effective solutions. SmarTech expects that this trend will continue to increase as the cost of materials decreases and the speed and productivity of AM technologies increases.”

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