Additive Manufacturing Strategies

3D Printing Keeps German Shoe Company a Step Ahead with Shoe Lasts 3D Printed In-House

ST Medical Devices

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The savings in terms of cost and time that 3D printing provides can provide lasting benefits, as one German shoe company is seeing through in-house 3D printing of shoe lasts. Oberle – Gesunde Schuhe, which traces its history back 158 years in shoe manufacture, has turned to 3D printing not just in an effort to keep up with the 21st century but in order to better create specialty “healthy shoes.” Since 2006, the company has been specializing in this area, developing a recognized leadership in orthopedic footwear technology; now thanks to its in-house X350pro 3D printer from German RepRap, the company is getting a leg up on its competition.

3D printing is making quite an impression in the footwear industry; while it isn’t near the saturation point of hearing aids, shoes, insoles, and other footwear applications are widely adopting additive manufacturing in their production methods, often benefiting from the personalization the technology can offer to customers. While age-old advice has long been to invest most heavily in a good mattress and good shoes to keep a person fit, thanks to 3D printing, the level of investment needed for a good pair of shoes is dropping for both manufacturer and customer.

In the case of Oberle – Gesunde Schuhe, the focus is on helping customers stay on their feet through a perfect fit. Using posture analysis to measure the way an individual holds their body and a walking analysis to measure movement, the company has been employing 3D technologies here for some time already as part of standard operations to ensure customized solutions.

A shoe last is an integral product in the creation of a shoe, as well as in a cobbler’s shoe repair operations. Shaped like a human foot, the last allows for the right shape to be created; custom lasts are created for bespoke shoes. In Oberle’s process, the last had long been ourtsourced, milled from wood following a 3D scanning process that would create a digital shoe model for the subtractive manufacture of the last. While this process itself was an update to the previously employed means of last creation — made via a plaster imprint that was filled with foam to make a “positive” model of the foot then used as a last — due to General Manager Achim Oberle’s foam allergy, it still seemed unnecessary. Oberle thought that there wasn’t necessarily a need to outsource the lasts.

Enter 3D printing. The technology, which is well-suited to the creation of shoe lasts, was one Oberle was already somewhat familiar with, and so in September 2016 he brought the X350pro into operation. This 3D printer, which was introduced and upgraded in 2015, came highly recommended as Oberle sought opinions on the right 3D printer for the job.

“The main advantage is that we can work considerably faster. Even the foot shell can be produced with a 3D printer. This foot shell is used to verify that the earlier 3D scan is a perfect fit. Clear plastic makes this easier. Once the shape fits perfectly, the final product can be printed. Adjustments are fast and easy, and so are fittings. With 3D printing, the first fitting can be done in as little as an hour,” Oberle says of the 3D printer.

“We are still familiarizing ourselves with 3D printing and looking more ways to take advantage of this technology. It definitely requires many hours to acquire the necessary technical knowledge. Furthermore, it took us a while to find the right material for the requirements and to adjust the correct settings to service our needs. Today, we can proudly claim to have found and fully implemented a reliable process, which is working quite well for us,” says Oberle.

Oberle – Gesunde Schuhe utilizes PET-G filament in the creation of its shoe lasts, after initially working with PLA. The company notes that PET-G is suited for its purposes due to odorless printing and capability for high print speeds, along with the material’s high strength and low risk of warpage.  Nearly a year into use, the x350pro works longer hours than the employees, said to frequently run through the night on print jobs, and may soon be joined by a second machine to help handle the load. Discuss in the Oberle forum at 3DPB.com.

[Images supplied by German RepRap]

 

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