An in-house 3D printer means Salomon can make immediate adjustments.
The high level of accuracy delivered by the Dimension 1200es is vital when developing and validating requirements for tread and grip.
A 3D printed prototype sole, below, can be tested for volume, form, tread and grip before finalizing the final product, top.
A running start
Founded in the French Alps in 1947, sports equipment manufacturing company Salomon designs and manufactures products for various sports markets – including trail running, hiking, climbing, adventure racing, skiing and snowboarding – in over 40 countries across five continents. Salomon prides itself on its passion to drive mountain sport progression, product development, quality and craftsmanship.
Pivotal to Salomon’s design process is the use of its Dimension 1200es 3D Printer, which runs on FDM technology. According to CAD engineer Emilien Arbez, the 3D printer is used with increasing success to cut costs and speed delivery of footwear sole prototypes.
“Having our own 3D printing system in-house has revolutionized the way we work and offers a huge boost in terms of overall control and flexibility,” he says. For example, Salomon 3D prints prototype soles for hiking and trail-running shoes in ABSplus and then easily tests them for volume and form. “A high level of accuracy is especially important when developing and validating the requirements for tread and grip.”
Heightened Design Control
Before acquiring the 3D printer, the team outsourced all of its 3D printed prototypes.
“Our previous process gave us very little control and meant that once the files were sent and the process was underway in Asia, it was too late to incorporate any last-minute modifications,” continues Arbez. “On top of that, it was far more costly and we had to wait up to three weeks to have the 3D printed soles in our hands.”
Arbez and his colleagues are now far more self-sufficient: They can undertake a sizeable share of their prototyping requirements in-house for the brand’s roughly 40 annual new footwear launches, strategic projects for R&D teams and early development models.
Importantly, the in-house 3D printer’s quick turnaround lets Salomon produce prototype soles very quickly while allowing room for continual adjustments, where required. “We can send a file to print overnight and arrive the next morning having produced a piece that we’re able to analyze immediately,” says Arbez. “If we need to make any adjustments and produce another prototype, we can have a revised design printed by the end of the day.”
Salomon’s design team also uses the 3D printer to test other products, like ski goggles and ski bindings. The bindings are designed, 3D printed and affixed to skis so that the team can check dimensions and proportions to ensure correct fit and functionality.
Savings of Two Thirds
Arbez expects the 3D printer to build over 300 pieces by the end of the year, delivering huge cost savings.
“In addition to increasing our flexibility and effectively eliminating lead times, bringing our prototyping needs in-house means that our costs are around a third of what they would be if we were using an external supplier,” says Arbez. “In fact, since installing the 3D printer, we have calculated that we have saved around €24,000.”
With footwear the mainstay application for the Salomon design team, Arbez is keeping a close eye on Stratasys’ multi-material 3D printing technology. “In the future, combining soft and rigid materials in a single part to create soles that vary in rigidity would be of great benefit.”
“The pinnacle for us would be to 3D print a pair of trail-running shoes on-site, put them on our feet and immediately wear them to run in. With 3D printing technology always advancing, this could be reality soon,” he concludes.