Suffering due to uncomfortable shoes, having to ‘break in’ as they constantly hurt your feet, or dealing with badly fitted shoes in general is going to become a thing of the path really soon. Thanks to rapid prototyping of shoes, various shoe companies like United Nude, Feetz and Nike are using 3D printing in order to give customers well fitted shoes that are custom made for them- both in store and on spot.
In the early days of 3D printing, the technology was only used for rapid prototyping of various products. In the last few years though, 3D printing has gone a long way. There has been great development in all three sectors of the three digital accelerators- storage, bandwidth and processing power which have taken the technology to new heights as a manufacturing tool for finished products. Jewelry, dresses, jet engine parts, shoes, synthesizer replacement parts, human jawbones etc. and many other astonishing things have been manufactured using 3D printing.
3D Printing: Beyond Rapid Prototyping
People really do have a hard time visualizing it when they are told that things can be manufactured by printing them. 3D printers in fact, manufacture these products by depositing material layer by layer until the final product is obtained. Materials typically used are metal or plastic for rapid prototyping. A laser is used for fusing the individual layers printed out after the design has been downloaded into the printing device. Layer after layer is added and fused in this way until the object construction has been completed.
Today’s 3D printers are being used not just for rapid prototyping, but actual manufacturing of products. Huge industrial strength printers can be as large as cars, while home based desktop models released recently can be as small as a microwave oven. Today, 3D printers that can print out actual houses by deposition of layer upon layer of cement are in development. 3D printers’ prices are going down too as independent hobbyists are looking for more compact models.
Perfectly Fitted Shoes
What makes rapid prototyping of shoes so lucrative to customers is the fact that the shoes can be tailor made for every customer’s unique foot size. Contrary to popular belief, very few people have identical feet. Our left feet can be a little smaller or wider than our right feet, even though we do not realize it. Due to this factor, getting shoes that actually fit both left and right feet perfectly is quite rare. In addition to that, the current system of shoe sizes restricted to measurements of half integers such as 6, 6.5, 7 etc.
These measurements only take into consideration the length of a person’s feet. There exists no measurement for the width or thickness of human feet in popular shoe size measurements. Rapid prototyping shoes can potentially solve all these nitty gritties of shoe sizes. Instead of trying out pair after pair of pre-made shoes, rapid prototyping of shoes can ensure the perfect fit.
In case of 3D printed shoes, photos of customers’ feet are taken from different convenient angles. From these photos, the computer can now create accurate 3D models of the feet. After that, the customer’s height, activity level and weight are taken into consideration combining with the 3D model. It is after inputting all the obtained data does the customer receive a customized pair of shoes tailor made for them. Companies like Feetz first print out the shoes and send it to their clients afterwards. For United Nude, the shoes are 3D printed right in front of their clients, in store.
Custom Therapy Shoes
Not only is the technology for fashion savvy people looking for the latest shoe trends, 3D printed shoes also have their application in the therapeutic shoe sector. One such example has been set by SOLS Systems. This company makes customized and corrective orthotics using 3D printing to make their special shoes relieve foot pain of the patients and provide added comfort. Previously, the prescription process and orthotic scanning used to be sterile and archaic. With the introduction of rapid prototyping, these custom shoes are fashion forward, custom made and serve the purpose of therapy. Patients also enjoy higher levels of engagement with the product development process. Podiatrists of the company have seen the conversion rate go higher than the point of scale.
Shoes for Athletes
Celebrated athletic sports brand Nike introduced their new product- the Ultimate Cleat American football boot of the Nike Vapor line. These boots have been created in combination of 3D printing of shoes as well as 3D knitting- dubbed as Flyknit technology by the company. These shoes deliver both strength and speed, being a lightweight athletic shoe. It is due to the integration of 3D printing of shoes and 3D knitting that Nike is being able to give athletes products that feel like second skin, fit like socks and can adapt to every player’s foot, style of play etc. to help them perform better at their respective levels. 3D shoe printing is definitely a game changing technology for athletes.
Even though most of the shoes manufactured today are made using traditional methods, 3D printed shoes will soon grab a huge share of the market in the coming days along with many other 3D printed products already in use. 3D printing and rapid prototyping are quickly advancing on a global scale and have the most bizarre things to offer. Manufacturing of shoes will soon be taken to the next level, thanks to 3D printing.
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