May.30, 2013

The Belgian shoe retailer Runners Service Lab, specialized in walking and running shoes analysis, received a grant of 152,000 euro from the Flemish innovation agency IWT to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing affordable custom-made running shoes with 3D printers.

In cooperation with the Leuven-based company Materialise, the company will spend the next two years to test and explore the potential of 3D printing in shoe making.

Runners Service Lab's founder Jempi Wilssens, an electronic technician and a runner, developed the first foot scan: a pressure plate with thousands of sensors that gauge the pressure on the feet hundreds of times per second during running. Based on the foot scan Runners Service Lab gives advices to customers on running shoes. Runners Service Lab has now three stores in Belgium.

"We can basically manufacture shoes from scratch." said Wilssens' son and current manager Koen Wilssens. "We have gained the know-how after years in the business. But at this stage we cannot do it in a profitable way. 3D printing is however widening our perspectives. If we could manage a retail price of 200 to 220 euros, it would be commercially viable."

"Printing on hard materials is not a problem, but the typically tempering materials used for shoes are different."

It is a good timing for Runners Service Lab to start this project. "We estimate that we could employ five to ten additional staff at a micro factory." says Wilssens. Runners Services Lab quintupled its annual turnover to 5 million euros since 2005 and its profit rises to 250,000 euro. "Crisis? not by us," says Wilssens. "On the contrary. I have the impression that consumers in a time of crisis will either pay for quality or very cheap price."

Runners Service Lab plans to open their fourth store in Paal-Beringen next year and is also having talks on joint ventures in the Netherlands, Ireland and UK.

Posted in 3D printing Applications

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