Jan.27, 2014

Last week, the startup SOLS took a significant step toward their goal of providing customized shoe inserts using 3D printing technology by closing a $1.75 million seed financing round led by Lux Capital. Kegan Schouwenburg is the CEO and co-founder of SOLS; she also ran the giant Shapeways factory in Queens in New York for nearly a year and a half. Schouwenburg started thinking about the idea for SOLS while running around the high-tech Shapeways factory in shoes that were low-tech and painful. The irony of the situation inspired her to consider how 3D printing technology could solve her painful podiatry problem.

Image credit: SOLS

That's how SOLS was born: Schouwenburg co-founded the company last year with Joel Wishkovsky who is the company's COO. Their team also includes six other members with specialties from bio-mechanical and software engineering to podiatry. 3D printing technology has already been used to make shoes for purposes of art, fashion, and function – it is already possible to order shoe inserts customized for your foot. But, SOLS plans to use 3D printing technology to simplify the process for the consumer and to reduce costs.

Customers will be able to use their mobile device's camera to scan their feet and place an order using a downloadable app: the process is 100% digital. The foot scan provides the data to visualize the product and prescription in real time. At this time, the process takes a few more steps as it still involves a 'fitting kit' which is basically a soft pad that customers press their foot into to leave an imprint which is then sent back to the company.

SOLS stresses the importance of posture and ergonomics for good physical and mental health, and, through its customized orthotics, the company aims to store and return more energy to it's wearers than the average athletic shoe. The company offers consumers increased accuracy in their orthotics, improved comfort, and consistent quality.

SOLS are made to order from ultra flexible, anti-microbial nylon, dyed the color of your choice. This material is an important part of what makes SOLS unique in the world of orthotics. Instead of using a combination of hard and soft materials, Sols use the advantages offered by 3D printing technology to modify the composition of materials as they are printed. This results in interesting and functional combinations of softness and rigidity which provides appropriate support to meet the needs of the wearer. There's no extra production cost if an orthotic made with more or less complex material combinations.

The company is considering whether they will print the inserts in a large central location, á la Shapeways, or in decentralized factories – or perhaps even small centers where people may be fitted on-site. They may also integrate into existing retail; so when customers buy shoes at a department store, they could be fitted for Sols on the spot. The customized orthotics could then be shipped to the buyer.

Image credit: SOLS

Right now SOLS is experimenting with different ways to finish the 3D printed products, including polishing and dying. Eventually, Schouwenburg and her team may pursue items beyond orthotics:

"We're focused on looking at how the body moves, evolves, and creating products that work with that."

SOLS plans to make its inserts available to consumers sometime in the next year, and will begin selling orthotics this year through medical professionals who can fit patients in-person. The company has already secured a network of physicians in New York to begin testing the service, and they are also looking for partners through their website.

The bespoke orthotics provided by SOLS seems like an interesting step toward the easy availability of customized, ergonomic products.

Source: Gigaom


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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