I saw a huge metal 3D printer that apparently only prints shoes.
That would seem to be an outrageous statement, and it probably is a bit exaggerated, but it’s mostly true: the machine prints shoe molds. In speaking with a representative from Farsoon I learned about their latest metal 3D printer. Farsoon is a 3D printer manufacturer that was founded in the 1990’s by Dr. Xu Xaioshu. Today the firm produces a wide variety of both polymer and metal devices for industry, all of which use laser melting technology.
Upon seeing the huge printer, I naturally assumed it would be used for “general purpose” metal 3D printing. You know: hip implants, aerospace parts, etc. The usual stuff.
Apparently Farsoon worked with a shoe manufacturer and ended up developing an industrial metal 3D printer specifically for the purpose of producing shoe molds.
Shoe molds are used to create those intricate soles on the bottom of your shoes. Turn over your shoe and take a look at how complex some of these tread patterns can be.
Traditionally such molds are made using CNC milling gear, but there’s another step: etching.
The problem is how to produce the detailed textures on the mold? Etching allows this to happen but it requires considerable precise work to put down a pattern on the CNC-milled mold and then etch them in. The etching is done with chemicals that are most likely unfriendly to humans and the environment, making it a difficult process. This has been done overseas traditionally.
With North American manufacturers having supply chain challenges, it’s not a surprise that at least one shoe manufacturer has turned to 3D printing to solve the shoe mold problem.
Farsoon modified one of their existing models to have a build volume perfectly sized for producing shoe molds. At top you can see a sample shoe mold metal 3D print produced on the device.
Here we can see the texture detail available on the 3D printed metal shoe mold. Note there are multiple different texture patterns in this sample.
With the new metal 3D printer, the shoe manufacturer can easily produce any new shoe mold design on demand within a day or so. It’s even better that the quality of the print is good enough to use the mold right out of the printer for casting purposes. The sample at top has not been post processed to refine the surfaces.
This is a very interesting development, as it demonstrates how one industry can solve difficult manufacturing problems through a specialized 3D printing solution. While this has produced perhaps the most “niche” metal 3D printer ever, it could show the future: specialized 3D printers for particular purposes.