Another day, another factory visit, and for day 3 officially of our trip, we were heading to the New Balance facility in Brighton, Boston, which is where all the sole unit action for the NB MADE 1978 goes on! There’s also a special guest appearance too…
Again, drinking ample amounts of coffee, and filling up on a good solid breakfast from the trust Lenox Hotel, off we went on our NB MADE bus for a short drive this time, no three hour journeys today thankfully.
We arrived at the Brighton Facility about 9am, had even more coffee and breakfast snacks before getting an introduction to the New Balance Boston Factory from Production Manager Derek Cobbe, and some information about working with Vibram from Manufacturing Innovation Manager Tim Luke, then we split up and headed off for a factory tour.
Oh, and just a small point to note… During the introduction, Jim Davis, chairman of New Balance, just casually appeared, and proceeded to join us on the tour, no big deal.
Just in case you haven’t noticed already, the soles of the NB 1978’s are made from Vibram, and Vibram supply the raw materials to New Balance, and from that, the associates at the Boston Factory use direct injection moulding to create an all EVA Vibram sole unit.
Taking notes from a board in the Boston Factory, it states that for the NB 1978, there is an 840 pair daily production, 140,000 yearly productions and a 15-step operation sequence.
Obviously, New Balance love to make everyone aware that they are domestically manufacturing footwear, and someone asked Brad Lacey while we were at the Norridgewock Factory, and he made the below point about using Vibram, and the Made in USA tag.
“How can we get the highest US content in the product? Some of the sole units in our heritage products are really intricate. You strip ’em apart and there’s ten parts. Through a modern process, you don’t need that. Vibram was a huge partner and their trust in us to bring some engineering was amazing. They don’t do that for everyone.”
Following our tour of the factory, we sat back down and Tim Luke went in-depth about the relationship between New Balance and Vibram, so if you’re into tech, then the next part is well worth a read. Luckily for us on the trip, tech enthusiast Gary Warnett was on hand, so teamed with his questions, and Tim’s answers, we all were treated to some seriously great information.
Check out Tim’s words below, and also jump to this article on The Drop Date when you get a chance to read more about what Gary had to say.
“Vibram has been a supplier and had a relationship with New Balance since the late ’70s. We’ve used them on many different products and many different experiences. That translated to the 1978. We really wanted to find an EVA material where we had a full contact to the ground phase to it. We had no need for additional rubber pieces that would prevent abrasion. Vibram could do that for us. We took the material and ran lab tests and trials with them. Then we were able to get a formula that could work for what we wanted – the marketing team wanted a sole that had a nice feel to it, so a lot of time EVA soles are light but have a really cushy feel. The 1978 sole is firm and really structured too – it had to have this sense of value and firmness that would give it that resistance. We can mould it and we can add some topcoat cements to it before sending it to the other factory to assemble. It’s been a great process that started about a year and a half ago with early conversations. As far as EVA moulding, that started a long time ago at this site and that started with other partnerships that we have within Asia and asking what the best equipment and mould vendors are for that process.
What happens with EVA is that you bring it in and it needs to expand. We build our mould to the specific expansion rate of the material and we work on that with Vibram. We bring in material that’s below and above that rate and we bring that together so that when we go through that process, the sole is the length that we need it to be. With EVA moulding you put it in a cavity that’s around 2/3 its size, then the machine opens it and it expands. It then goes through a stabilization tunnel that brings its temperature down in a controlled environment. To get the upper to bond, you need cement. We wash it, heat it up, add a primer then a second coat of cement to it. At that point in time it’s complete so it can be send to Norridgewock so it can be heated up and added to the complete upper. They’ll take the upper and this sole and put the sole and upper into a flash activator heating unit to activate the cement on both sides. They’ll sole press those together and match them up then place them into a press for a period of time.”
“We really wanted the Vibram name as part of the name. If they and New Balance want their name on a shoe, we’re all going to be very particular about it. We agreed with a handshake and we not only ran our own testing on the soles – not just destructive testing but also extensive wear testing to see how they perform in the field – Vibram also requested to be sent shoes to test themselves before they would say yes.
The [EVA] beads themselves are supplied by Vibram and they’re made in Asia. New Balance has a policy that to classify something as a made in the USA product it needs to be at least 70 percent made in the USA and the 1978 well exceeds that level. We continue to work with Vibram to adjust for that too.
We are buying a Vibram spec material we developed together. They approve it too. They’re based in Massachusetts down the road and we speak to them on a weekly basis so they know exactly how their name is being used.”
Crazy, right? It was a lot to digest, but finally, we had a complete timeline and full experience of how the NB MADE 1978 was put together, from the sole unit, to the upper, and everything in-between.
We’ve split this day up, so stay tuned for the next part which features a trip to the brand new HQ of New Balance which was just up the road from the Boston Factory.
Also, a special thanks to Peter Jansson for capturing the moment that we were lucky enough to meet Jim Davis.
They make some other New Balance silhouettes at the Boston Factory, so check out some images from the rest of the factory below!