Jun 24, 2016 | By Alec

The footwear industry has slowly been waking up to the potential of custom-fitting 3D printed shoes, and we might be seeing a lot more of them in the near future. For 3D printed footwear pioneer OESH Shoes, which made its first 3D printed shoes commercially available way back in 2011, just received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop low-cost pellet-based 3D printers that can be used for large-scale footwear production.

This is also great news for the thousands of women who are relying on footwear from OESH Shoes to get them through the day. For those of you who’ve never heard of OESH Shoes, the Charlotte, Virginia-based developer was one of the first to work on commercially available 3D printed shoes. Designed and manufactured under the direction of Dr. Casey Kerrigan, a Harvard M.D. who specializes in human motion and feet movement, all OESH shoes are purposefully designed for comfort and health.

It’s a very interesting concept that is already affecting the footwear industry. Dr. Kerrigan has spent years studying the effects of shoes on the joints and the body, and any relations with arthritis. She discovered that conventional  shoes are actually hampering the natural ‘springing’ function of our feet, which causes discomfort – especially when wearing high heels. “I had all this research and then I had this idea to make really tremendous shoes,” Kerrigan previously explained. “My research would say that a spring in a shoe is much better than a dampener.”

Putting her money where her mouth was and leaving her job as head of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Virginia, she started her own little 3D printing shoe factory a few years ago. All 3D printed OESH shoes have been designed from the sole upwards, rather than the other way around. In fact, the curvature and support found in traditional shoes actually amplifies the stress on your joints. By removing all excess energy absorbing cushioning, your feet can finally start functioning naturally, which assists your small muscles in the foot and reduces strain on your joints.

What’s more, they are specifically focusing on women’s foot shapes – as men’s feet are still the standard for the production of all shoes. Typically, women’s feet have a narrower heel and a wider forefoot than men’s feet. “OESH is accurately constructed to accommodate this fact with a subtle, ballet slipper-like heel fit,” the doctor explains, adding that 3D printed OESH shoes usually feature wider forefoot and toe areas for a more natural fit.

Since launching their first shoes in 2011, things have been moving quickly for OESH. They already have shoes for all occasions available through their webstore and have seen their sales steadily increasing. The only downside is that 3D printing has been keeping costs high, limiting the company’s growth opportunities. That’s why the Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation is doubtlessly very welcome.

Together with Dojo Research & Consulting, the company will use the funds to develop a pellet-based extrusion process for 3D printers used in shoe manufacturing, which will hopefully decrease production costs significantly. Research into pellet 3D printing has already shown promising results in decreasing production costs, and the shoe manufacturers are hopeful that this technique would make 3D printing more appealing to the footwear industry.

Ultimately, it could even realize 3D printing production on a local scale and bring shoe production back from overseas factories. “Innovations in 3D printing increase the ability to customize shoe soles and create designs that are unable to be manufactured with any other existing manufacturing processes,” Dr. Kerrigan said. “We’re honored that the National Science Foundation has recognized our work innovating new shoe design and manufacturing processes.”



Posted in 3D Printer



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