July 22, 2015 | By Alec

A number of 3D printing startups are racing towards the release of the world’s first commercially viable 3D printed shoes, but it is beginning to look like one very promising project by two Philadelphia University is taking the lead. Project FOOTPRINT by Matt Flail and Tim Ganter, which has developed a very impressive system involving 3D scanning, algorithmic shoe development and high quality 3D printing, is ready to make its debut at the GDS Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany.

This is especially remarkable as shoe developers have been struggling with the 3D printing challenge, as not many 3D printable materials are durable and comfortable enough to be worn on a daily basis. What’s more, customizing 3D printed shoes for each and every pair of feet also isn’t easy. However, for their thesis project, Matt Flail and Tim Ganter seem to have come up with a great solution. As we first reported a few months ago, they’ve had a lot of success by breaking down footwear conventions and develop a manufacturing process for one pair of feet at a time. ‘Since no two feet are alike, why is there standard sizing for feet, when feet are anything but standard? Even the most advanced sneakers allow for improper fit and alignment of the ankles, knees, hips and back. This greatly increases the risk of injury and chronic muscle and joint fatigue,’ they remind us.

They therefore decided to utilize latest technologies as best as possible to rethink manufacturing, enable customized fits for shoes and reduce waste as much as possible. And of course, they used their own feet as test subjects. ‘These scans [of our feet] were used to create precise footbed and midsole models. These models were then taken into 3D modeling and algorithmic modeling software to create cellular structures that would in effect, mimic the cushioning provided by EVA foams commonly found in the industry. The combination of software packages allowed us to manipulate the size, shape, and position of the cells. With this technique we can essentially create variable density midsoles based on specific support needs, using only one material and one basic geometric structure (or multiples if needed),’ Matt explained at the time.

Through an extensive prototyping process, they eventually came up with a system for scanning feet, which is used by an algorithmic model to develop custom shoes for each and every wearer. While multiple materials are used for the shoes themselves, the main part is 3D printed in Ninjaflex filament. Though they tested a variety of other filaments as well (including TangoBlack and TangoPlus materials on an Objet 3D printer), Matt tells us that Ninjaflex proved to have the flexible and soft characteristics consumers look for in shoes. But most importantly, ‘[Ninjaflex] has a unique ability to resist deformation under heavy stress,’ Matt says. DuraForm FLEX Nylon powder, that is 3D printed with an SLS machine, is also a candidate for the future product.

While 3D printing will be used for the custom midsole and support section, the rest of the shoe (the fabric part) will also be made as a custom fit. To do so, they have already extensively experimented with SHIMA SEIKI, who specialize in an automated WHOLEGARMENT process. ‘Our uppers were knit in one piece with heat shrink yarn woven into them. Once knit, the uppers were placed around the foot last and steamed, which molded the heat shrink yarn around the foot for a perfect fit,’ Matt says.

This entire and impressive prototyping process has resulted in one of the most commercially viable 3D printed shoes we’ve seen so far, so we are expecting a lot from the FOOTPRINT project in the coming months. We will doubtlessly learn a lot more about these fascinating 3D printed shoes later this month, when Matt and Tim will officially unveil their prototype at the large GDS Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. If you’re interested in seeing them for yourself, FOOTPRINT will be on display on July 29-31.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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