Oct 28, 2015 | By Tess
Earlier this year, the Dutch Education Minister, Jet Bussemaker turned heads at Prinsjesdag, the annual, traditional Dutch unveiling of the upcoming year’s budget, by wearing a stunning outfit made from the latest technologies. Perhaps most notable in her ensemble were a pair of 3D printed high heeled shoes, which were made in association with the Technical University Eindhoven (TU) and footwear innovation and education institution SLEM. Last week, Jet Bussemaker’s custom outfit was featured at the 2015 edition of Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, and 3Ders caught up with one of the people behind the shoe’s engineering and design, Troy Nachtigall.
The project was part of an initiative put forward by SLEM to bring in both footwear designers and non-footwear designers to work with 3D printing technology in order to design shoes. The results of the initiative were displayed at Dutch Design Week and the variety of 3D printed shoes was impressive, to say the least. Two of the designs made through the initiative have especially taken off in a big way, Amber Ambrose’s 3D printed ballet pointe shoes (pictured below), and the shoe design worn by Jet Bussemaker.
Showcase featuring Amber Ambrose's project
The shoes were commissioned by the Dutch minister of education in order to showcase the possibilities and range of potentials for new technologies. She approached TU PhD student Troy Nachtigall, fashion designer Pauline van Dongen, and industrial designer Leonie Tenthof van Noorden to take on the project. As became apparent through talking with Nachtigall, the process of designing and creating the custom fit 3D printed shoes was quite complex, as they had to take into account several factors, including weight support, structural integrity, and thermodynamics. Ultimately, the goal for them was to create a comfortable shoe that was a perfect fit for Jet Bussemaker in every way.
A selection of 3D printed shoes to be tried on at DDW
Nachtigall explains, “It’s not only looking at orthopedics, it’s looking at keeping your feet healthy and having more energy and quality of life at the end of the day. So I’m looking at how do we make shoes that are soft, squishy and bouncy, and that really work to your lifestyle and what you’re doing.”
In that sense, for Nachtigall and his team designing the shoe was far more about designing its insides than its outer appearance. “The magic of the shoe is that it’s more on the inside than on the outside,” he says, “We can do whatever we want with the outside, the engineering on the inside is where we have to start to look at how you apply pressure, where you apply pressure…you have to look at it kinetically.”
The kinetic considerations and support offered by the shoe are of utmost importance as Nachtigall explains that chronic foot pain and serious foot problems that arise later in life actually begin several decades before they become apparent. He wants to help eliminate this discomfort altogether by designing ultra customized shoes that keep people’s feet active and moving through their internal design.
Part of this, as Nachtigall points out, is that they had to consider not only the weight of the person wearing the shoe, but also the force exerted by them, “When you’re walking, especially jumping up and down, we can exert four times your body weight in pressure”. In order to incorporate this reality into the shoe’s design, he enlisted the help of Leonie Tenthof van Noorden, an expert in generative architecture, as well as a mathematician to calculate how to build the shoe’s interior in order to support such weight.
Another range of aspects that had to be considered were the thermodynamics of the shoe. Nachtigall explains how his design accounts for the heat generated by a walking foot: “I use something I call ‘textile thinking’, I thought about how textiles are made…I was looking at Egyptian woven sheets that are made so that if you sweat it dries off quickly and you’re entirely comfortable while you sleep. Imagine 7000 layers of Egyptian linen sheets stacked up on top of each other and that’s how we got to making something that’s actually comfortable to wear, the material wicks moisture away just like your bed sheets would.” The shoe is also designed to have micro-holes in its foot bed, which function with pneumatic action to allow the foot to breathe.
Sustainability has also been of paramount importance in designing the 3D printed customized shoe. Not only is the shoe made up of one piece, meaning that there is little to no production waste, but the material it is printed out of, FilaFlex, can be recycled, even to the point where even after it has been printed it can be turned back into 3D printer filament. “The material is so incredible inert when it’s done that it doesn’t take on anything and it doesn’t react to anything so we can recycle it,” says Nachtigall. This aspect of the material will be important in developing a future business model for the personalized shoes as well, as Nachtigall hopes to one day be able to have people bring in their worn 3D printed shoes, have them CAT scanned to see where the material and geometry started to fail and then reprint a next pair from the recycled material.
The shoes were 3D printed in association with SLEM on Ultimaker 3D printers, and took 108 hours to print. The project, which started off with two 3D printers, is now working with nine printers and it continues to grow. As mentioned, the shoes are printed entirely from FilaFlex filament, which was chosen for its elasticity and flexibility as well as its comfort and durable qualities. Indeed, as Nachtigall demonstrated for us, the shoes are extremely flexible when moved in certain directions and quite sturdy when moved in others, this was done by adjusting both the interior design and density of the printing.
Troy Nachtigall has big hopes for the future of 3D printing in the customized shoe manufacturing industry. He explains how the process of ordering them might work saying, “You’ll come to our site, get your scans from the waist down, put in your parameters and we will send you the model that is specifically customized to you. That’s where I think that the 3D future is different than what we saw with mass marketed music, you can’t do this on a mass market, it doesn’t work. On an ultra personalized product service level, however, it’s great.”
Troy Nachtigall is a PhD student at the Technical University Eindhoven, and has had over a decade experience in fashion design working in Florence, Italy. He has worked and continues to work extensively in wearable technology, 3D modelling and printing, interaction design, and new media graphic design. He is also currently working on a sustainable DIY sneaker project called oneday.shoes, which has recently launched a kickstarter campaign.
It is fascinating to learn about the intricacies and complexities that go into designing a 3D printed customized shoe, and here at 3Ders we are excited to see how Troy Nachtigall's project will continue to grow. Hopefully someday soon we will all have a proverbial and literal bounce in our step thanks to SLEM and TU's innovative designs.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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