When 3D Printing Shoes, Start with the Heel

By on September 4th, 2013 in Usage

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We’re reading a post by i.Materialise on the work of Physics PhD student Katrien Herdewyn on developing a 3D printed shoe as part of the Shoe Design program at Academy of Fine Arts, Sint-Niklaas in Belgium. She says: 
The main theme of these shoes is nano technology. The inspiration came from my studies: I studied electrical engineering, material sciences and nanotechnology at the University of Leuven. I ordered my first experiment in February, it’s a heel 3D printed in polyamide.
The shoes look terrific. But wait – Herdewyn didn’t actually 3D print the entire shoe, she started with the heel. Why not 3D print the shoe? 
The answer is due to the limitations of materials. While a shoe is a very common object, its design always demands three fundamental properties: 
  • It must be sufficiently robust to withstand contact with floor surfaces
  • It must also be soft enough to comfortably engage with the associated foot
  • It must look good!
While a great 3D design can handle the “looking good” part, the shoe must also be both hard AND soft at the same time. In a conventional shoe, this is easy: the upper is soft leather (typically) and the bottom is hard plastic. How can you do this with a 3D printer? 
Virtually all 3D printers cannot achieve this, with the sole exception (pun intended) of Stratasys’ Objet line of PolyJet 3D printers that can punch out hard and soft material in a single print. 
For everyone else you must separately print two pieces, hard and soft, and join them together. 
Start with the heel. 

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!