I spoke to some folks from Superfeet Worldwide, who described how they use 3D printing technology in their footwear operation.
Superfeet Worldwide Inc. was founded in 1977 by some Vietnam War veterans, and over the years has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers of premium insoles.
They’ve always been looking for new opportunities, and fell into the 3D print space some five years ago when they partnered with HP to place foot scanning kiosks in several locations. The devices would record foot scan data from a pressure plate, which was used with biomechanics analysis software to produce a shoe design.
Now they use the Flowbuilt factory in Ferndale, Washington with three HP 3D printers to produce footwear.
The workflow is interesting: the software-generated insole designs are 3D printed on the HP equipment to form custom tooling for automated footwear machines.
These machines, from Germany-based DESMA Shoe Machinery, have been used to produce footwear for many years, but these folks have taken a step forward. They’ve “hacked” these machines to enable dynamic injection recipes. This allows far more control over the resulting insole.
I’m told they are literally able to subtly change one’s biomechanics gait cycle by modifying parameters to generate the insoles with this equipment.
Superfeet Custom Consumer Insoles
But their consumer initiative seems more important, in that it allows a much closer connection to the consumer. It’s a more efficient process, as well, they say, due to the almost completely digital manufacturing flow from end to end.
Using this 3D printed tooling approach, they are able to produce custom-made insoles in only 72 hours. This is impressive given that they can provide unique insoles that not only match the physical structure of the recipient, but also attempt to incorporate self-goals and biophysical advice into the design.
Superfeet are working with a number of well-known shoe companies to provide this type of advanced service, which we will no doubt hear more about in the future as projects unfold.
It’s always been thought that 3D printing could enable highly-personalized consumer products, but I’ve been hearing such thoughts for quite a few years now. It turns out that things are a bit more complicated than originally believed, but companies like Superfeet are designing the workflows that enable manufacturers to collect, understand and use personal data to produce custom products.