While we are more than aware of the serious business 3D printing has to do in this world, still nothing makes (some of) us smile more than finding a cool new pair of shoes that fit snugly and look smart. As attractive new 3D printed styles by innovative and talented designers begin appearing more often now, we are scrambling to make way in the closet for everything from high heels (that you could actually wear somewhere besides a runway in Milan) to stylish tennies.
And while it’s no small feat to cover the toes in superb fabricated footwear, designers today are beginning to put a focus on this area because it is one where customers are able to benefit and appreciate greater affordability, as well as offering a versatile and much-needed range of customization; after all, what could be a better example of one size does not fit all than your illustrious and one-of-a-kind foot?
Whether your feet are enormous or petite, wide or narrow, there always seems to be an issue as to why a shoes off the rack just don’t fit well enough. L&K Manufacturing is keenly aware of what a perfect fit 3D printing and shoes make–and not only is this startup making history as the first 3D printing service bureau in Maine, but they may also be making history as the first company to make a 3D printer specifically for fabricating shoes.
Not to be confused with prototyping, they will actually be manufacturing shoes, and this is important not only as they already see L&K Manufacturing taking off with 3D printing fanfare, but also as they are able to bring back some of the classic heritage of Maine, which previously was known as a mover and shaker in the shoe business, offering jobs to many.
What is also helping to put L&K Manufacturing on the map is their association with Scratchpad Accelerator, the seed program that helps new startups grow–and thrive. Offering an atmosphere for the seriously dedicated entrepreneur to thrive, their program puts startup teams into a setting where they ‘live, breathe, and focus on their startups’ for three months, including funding to get their businesses going.
At the end of the program, teams have the opportunity also to pitch their concepts and products to potential investors. As participants in this accelerator, the team from L&K was able to benefit greatly. The result of their efforts and time spent with Scratchpad is the development of their 3D printer, which can produce 20,000 shoes in a space the size of a household oven. Now, that’s a game changer for an industry. That’s disruption, folks.
“Through Scratchpad, we’ve had an opportunity to work with shoe manufacturers to make sure that what we’re developing is really needed in the marketplace,” said Andrew Katon, L&K Manufacturing co-founder and CEO. “Those conversations have led to further discussions with some of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers. We’ve had a really warm welcome in the footwear industry so far.”
“The biggest thing Scratchpad has helped us with was strategy. We had a lot of passion behind what we did, and we made great designs and great products. But we didn’t have a good knowledge base about how we were going to scale our business. Scratchpad gave us the mentors to help us scale up to a global business.”
Scaleable is definitely a term to be used in conjunction with this new 3D printer, able to produce such volume from a compact environment, allowing their customers to benefit from customized, affordable products that are brought forth faster and with higher quality than traditionally offered. A different path was originally being explored by Katon and his co-founder, Vincent Lewis, after meeting as engineering students at their alma mater, the University of Maine.
Looking into ways to reduce traumatic brain injuries in the elderly, they were introduced to 3D printing. While it did not meld completely with their project, they definitely caught on to the potential of the technology and kept going, with an interest in footwear. The two applied to the Scratchpad Accelerator, and they’ve certainly graduated as shining examples of what the program is meant to offer. The L&K Manufacturing team is set to offer a presentation of their 3D printer and footwear on December 11th at the Scratchpad Accelerator Demo Day in Bangor. If you are interested in attending and meeting a variety of founders ‘before they become millionaires,’ click here for more information. Discuss this story in the L&K Manufacturing forum thread on 3DPB.com.
The Scratchpad Accelerator is a University of Maine initiative in collaboration with the Maine Technology Institute.