Crocs is a company known for its ability to innovate in the field of footwear, introducing a new and broadly appreciated casual shoe concept to the market. In order to maintain the high quality standards that have always distinguished the company, Crocs recently introduced the use of additive manufacturing to its production process—specifically advanced 3D printing solutions provided by Italian 3D printing company 3ntr.
Through the use of 3ntr’s industrial 3D printers, Crocs improved the entire prototyping phase of its footwear manufacturing process. By obtaining highly accurate feedback on the products’ wearability, the company significantly reduced production time and costs—a primary focus for a company when there is a need to reduce time to market. Within the American footwear company, additive manufacturing is used for prototyping: all new shoes, about 250 new styles per season, are based on test models 3D printed using 3ntr machines.
AM technologies offer key advantages during the extensive design process. In this particular case, the versatility of the solutions and the strong partnership between Crocs and 3ntr, with in-depth material studies and a continuous collaboration over the last year and a half to perfect the printing phase, really made the difference. Crocs was able to replicate the wearability, the durability and the ergonomics of its trademark commercial products exactly.
“3ntr has done a great job optimizing its machines, especially in terms of printing times,” explained Luca Faggin, Europe Innovation Manager for Crocs. “We went from 2-3 days to make a product to about a day and a half. With 3ntr’s 3D printing systems, we can use a soft material very similar to the one we use for the finished products, which allows us to have highly reliable feedback. Through the use of these solutions, we managed to achieve final results that were 100% satisfactory.”
Crocs’ experience in the world of additive manufacturing began 10 years ago with the use of some early 3D printing technologies, specifically a gypsum-based powder binding technology. During these years, the company continued to test different solutions in order to improve its manufacturing process, a trademark that is not limited to its world-famous foam clog and drives the company’s unique business model.
“3D printing at Crocs came about 10 years ago with the first powder-based machine, used for the realization of purely aesthetic prototypes. After that first phase, we started to explore new alternatives with the purpose of creating new designs and further developing the ergonomic aspects,” Faggin continued. “We contacted some other 3D printing brands at first. The other solution allowed us to meet some of our needs, but at the time we still couldn’t get functional prototypes that were fast and cost-effective. Not to mention that we needed a high level of reliability, especially from the repeatability point of view. So we tried the 3ntr machines and finally, after working together on developing and printing the proper materials, we were able to find the ideal solution.”
Crocs’ use of the technology demonstrates some of the many benefits that the right 3D printing technology can bring to a company’s workflow. Today, it is easy to see how successfully implementing 3D printing, even in a consolidated workflow, can strongly improve a company’s business model, accelerating time to market and reducing costs. One day, additive systems will also be used for real, end-use digital part production. When that day comes, Crocs and 3ntr will already be one step ahead.