3D Printing and an Adjustable Shoe: University Student’s Plan to Make Refugees’ Journeys a Bit Easier

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The Syrian refugee crisis is heartbreaking, and anyone with any humanity at all can’t help but be devastated by stories of families separated or images of children washed up on shores. It’s the less newsworthy suffering, however, that many of us don’t tend to think about. For example, many refugees have to walk thousands of miles over the course of their journey, over treacherous terrain and in harsh weather. Those conditions will wear out a pair of shoes quickly, with little opportunity or resources to replace them.

Refugee camps can supply migrants with fresh clothing and shoes, but it’s often not in the best condition, or even properly fitting – and, as most of us have experienced at one time or another, trying to walk any distance in a pair of ill-fitting shoes can be agonizing. Ideally, every refugee camp would have a 3D scanner and 3D printer to supply every person in need with a pair of perfectly customized shoes or insoles, but that’s not realistic at this point. However, a Brunel University London student has found a way to help refugees using 3D printing in a different way.e

Faisal Tayan, an industrial and product design student, is Syrian by background, and has volunteered at several refugee camps in Jordan and Greece. He’s seen firsthand the conditions that refugees face, and so for his final project, he wanted to develop something that could ease their suffering. He did some research, and found that a migrant’s trajectory from the Middle East and across Northern Europe will typically require them to travel through temperatures ranging from 40ºC to -11ºC.

“Refugees go through a long and treacherous journey to the country they seek asylum in, exposed to many different climates, terrains and conditions that they’re not used [to]. There is, of course, a risk of disease and deteriorating health, but dignity and comfort is also a factor – I noticed that most, if not all, gear worn by a refugee are ‘hand me down’ items, and not in the best condition at the start of a lengthy journey, let alone at the end,” Tayan said. “Migrants often don’t wear the correct size shoe, they just wear whatever shoes have been given to them. And when you might be walking 2,500km or more – from Manchester to London and back eight times – that’s just not right.”

He came up with an idea for a one-size-fits-all shoe that expands or contracts to fit the wearer’s foot. In researching expandable footwear, he mostly came across sandals for children. For adults, he could only find shoes with a pump function that fills pockets with air for a tighter fit, not anything that could expand. So he developed Shoe4All, which features a 3D printed mechanism that allows the shoe to expand or contract to fit adult sizes 6 to 11. The shoe itself is designed with neoprene, an insulated material used to make wetsuits.

The shoe is just a prototype at the moment, but Tayan is in the process of patenting the 3D printed mechanism and will continue to refine the design, which should hold appeal for a general market as well. Tayan wants to eventually sell the shoes through a business model similar to the one used by TOMS, in which every pair of shoes sold is matched by a donation of a pair to a person in need.

A refugee’s journey is going to be painful no matter what – leaving one’s home in the midst of crisis to trek thousands of miles across unfamiliar ground carries with it a tremendous amount of emotional distress, to say the least. But if Tayan’s idea succeeds, the physical pain of the journey will be lessened a little bit – and that’s worth a lot. Discuss in the 3D Printing for Refugees forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Brunel University London]

 

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