When 3D Printing Shoes, Start with the Heel

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. 
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