BASF at 360°: design, performance, and sustainability for footwear

At Simac, the company presented a complete range of innovations and solutions dedicated to an increasingly sustainable shoe, from high performance materials to models for 3D printing, and functional coatings for soles

Sustainability has always been one of the main principles guiding BASF, which invests around 2 billion euros each year in research and development, promoting the design of products that can make a significant contribution to an increasingly green future with an approach that follows three fields of action: “Reduce, recycle, rethink”. In response to this approach, at Simac were presented sustainable material solutions for polyurethane systems and thermoplastic polyurethanes created starting from renewable raw materials like sugar, corn, and castor oil like Elastopan®N (PU) and Elastollan®N (TPU). Bio-based solutions suitable to all the applications of the footwear manufacturing industry in various densities and degrees of hardness.

At the same time, BASF’s integrated production system enables the substitution of fossil by renewable feedstock derived from bio-waste: this concept, called the “biomass balance” approach allows BASF to feed biobased or recycled raw materials into the production network at the beginning, passing through the various phases of processing, to then arrive at finished products like plastics, where greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, and fossil raw materials are saved, while product quality and properties remain the same in the end product. For customers in the footwear industry, being able to count on materials with constant properties and consistent quality means not having to adapt the product design and the processing for shoes. This concept can be applied to BASF’s complete range of PU systems, TPU and E-TPU for footwear.

Another technology presented at Simac regards coatings for highly flexible substrates: original solutions that protect, improve, and colour flexible surfaces, setting new standards in design, personalisation, and the optimisation of processes. Among the products are NovaFlex valureTM, a substrate capable of achieving unique optical and haptic properties by combining paint formulation, texture, and carrier material, and NovaCoat-D, which combines in-mould coating and release coating in a new way, with demould properties that guarantee protection against sunlight, scratches, and dirt. Thanks to its many years of expertise, BASF can offer a wide range of colours and effects, with additional functionalities for shoe uppers and soles.

Also 3D Printing was a protagonist, not only for the creation of moulds and tools, but also for completely 3D printed shoes. Additive manufacturing can be a real game changer for the footwear industry and BASF: at Simac, BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH with its brand Forward AM presented 3D printed moulds and lasts through which development cycles can be significantly shortened. That’s not all: there were also 3D printed high heels and barefoot shoes as well as midsoles manufactured with latticed designs that offer cushioning, shock absorption and comfort, with the possibility of personalising in accordance with the customer’s needs. Lattice designs can be challenging for traditional manufacturing methods, but are easy to produce in additive manufacturing. So, they perfectly showcase how 3D printing supplements traditional manufacturing methods and how customers benefit from BASF’s cross-technology solutions. The concept was highlighted by a new solution presented for the first time at Simac, which combines 3D printing with Infinergy® material.

Infinergy®, the first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU), is a high-performance responsive material. The closed-cell, elastic particle foam combines the properties of TPU with the advantages of foams, making it as elastic as rubber but lighter, with exceptional cushioning. Initially it was designed for the world of sports, but since 2015, Infinergy® is used in the midsole of safety shoes and is setting new standards for cushioning and comfort in shoes. These standards are now transferred to business and casual shoes: the end users can now benefit from its technology which, as it returns the energy in each step, reduces fatigue and dampens shock on joints. Infinergy® offers a natural cushioning effect at the heel and middle part of the foot in the sole.  The responsiveness and rebound allows more comfort in movement, with a clear benefit for professionals who, for work and commuting needs, must spend many long hours on their feet.