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HP Joins the Customized Footwear Revolution, Powering FitStation with 3D Scanning and 3D Printing

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Personalization is increasingly important to today’s consumers, and 3D technologies are making this a viable reality — and one industry significantly benefiting from an uptick in 3D scanning and 3D printing is footwear. No matter what the size number is on the side of a shoe box, everyone’s feet are different; properly fitted footwear can make all the difference in the world for those who spend a lot of time on their feet, working, running, just living. Fully customized insoles and even shoes are becoming not only more common, but more accessible, with the proliferation of 3D technologies. Some big names in footwear and technology have already entered the arena, and the latest big name to throw its hat into the ring is none other than HP Inc. as the company today announces that its technologies power FitStation, a new platform designed to reimagine personalized experience.

FitStation takes customization to a personal level, incorporating individual 3D scanning of each foot, dynamic gait analysis to see how an individual walks and/or runs, and bringing 3D printing into manufacture of commercial footwear. The end-to-end process can provide recommendations of off-the-shelf shoes and insoles best suited for a particular foot shape and activity level, as well as being used to create 3D printed insoles and individually customized footwear.

I had the opportunity to see the system in action early at HP Labs in Palo Alto, as Steven Miller, Global Lead on FitStation platform, briefed a small contingent of media and analysts in the Immersive Computing Lab. FitStation, he explained, is a combination of Sprout (including the customer experience for 3D scanning and the FitStation application) with Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology, alongside innovative partners in the sportswear and footwear apparel industry, including RSscan (Belgium), Superfeet (insoles, US distributor for FitStation), and DESMA.

“The global themes we’re participating in represent megatrends,” Miller told us, pointing to:

  • Personalization/individuation of product, strong trend toward individualized products made for a specific person. Not just choosing attributes like color or styling but actually making shoes for a person, movement toward true individualization of a product.
  • Reshoring of product. Lends itself to local production. Local for local. Producing locally for local consumption. Platform facilitates democratization of design. Once you’re targeting design for one person and their needs, designers can work at the microscale as well. Target narrowly and specifically, we can bring designers onto the platform to let their designs be available to customers looking for those products.

“We started with footwear; this is the right product to bring these technologies together. It’s a market ready for this kind of individualization, and we are working with partners with the right kind of expertise,” he said.

Partners have been a critical pillar in HP’s work with 3D technologies, and the company has made a point of curating a network of complementary collaborators in a variety of technological and business focuses. Superfeet has been exploring the use of 3D printing in the creation of its customized insoles for some time, having announced a collaboration with Jabil last year. Indeed, at the nearby Jabil Blue Sky Innovation Center I had the opportunity to see some of the ways Jabil is working with Superfeet to innovate in footwear creation.

“For 40 years, we have set the standard for shape and fit. Until today, the technology to deliver a 3D printed insole that meets Superfeet’s exacting standards didn’t exist. Our new solution allows us to create the most individualized shape and fit on the planet,” Eric Hayes, Chief Marketing Officer at Superfeet, said in a released statement.

HP is putting its spin on an old adage, as Miller noted: “Our promise is that if the shoe fits… it was probably created by HP.”

Footwear is in focus not only for the benefit of the consumer, but the surrounding business. Miller pointed to an unpalatable reality of today’s footwear industry in that it has a huge ghost economy, with $2.4 billion in annual returns. Creating shoes that do fit, and insoles to keep them comfortable, will mean that customers won’t want to return shoes for improper fit, one of the most common reasons for returns. By creating a digital profile, the hope with FitStation is that customers will ultimately have an all-in-one solution, able to at any time order new or re-order favorite footwear, having been created by high-tech imaging and pressure analysis for products that meet individual needs. The process as Miller outlined it is simple:

  1. Scan
  2. Analyze and recommend
  3. Advanced fit while you wait

[Slide provided by HP]

The platform is starting with the creation of insoles first, and will move into making shoe lasts to make personalized shoes later. The program has been in pilot on the market, already in 11 stores.

“Customers see a lot of delight in this experience,” Miller said. “Our intent is to expand beyond the pilot.”

The team were also clear that comfort is key here — these are not intended to be a medical product and will not replace what an orthotist does.

The FitStation scan setup: left, the 3D scanner with block to place the other foot; right, gait analysis mat

“The heel cap is the only 3D printed bit,” Miller told us. “3D printing is the ideal digital technology to create an individualized product. RSprint, related to RSscan, produces the insole cap on an MJF 3D printer; assembly is done by Superfeet at their facility. There’s about a week turnaround today. Ideally when this achieves scale with an MJF printer at a local facility, turnaround time will be in 24 hours — or even while you wait, would be the ideal.”

Along with turnaround time, the company hopes to bring pricing down from the current $150 upon a wider-scale release. With much less expensive alternatives in 3D printed custom insoles available from companies like Wiivv, whose products can be created following a scan from a smartphone, already on the market, pricing will be a concern for consumers. The larger commercial system offered through FitStation does offer enhanced personalization capabilities, with deeper attention to stride and differentiation between products for walking and running.

We had the opportunity to watch a demo of a woman being fitted for her customized products; below is a quick look at the dynamic gait analysis process as seen in HP Labs:

The profile created via the 3D scans, foot pressure measurements, and gait analysis allows for a one-of-a-kind fit. The in-store process includes help from an associate to lead customers through the process, creating and saving their unique digital profiles.

“FitStation is a truly disruptive platform that will improves people’s lives and change the way people purchase footwear and shoe insoles. We are reinventing the footwear shopping experience, bringing a level of customization and personalization never before seen. We are stitching HP ’s capabilities in 3D scanning and 3D printing to bring this Blended Reality vision to life and are working with leading partners within the footwear industry to develop this revolutionary platform,” said Louis Kim, Global Head of Immersive Computing, Personal Systems, HP Inc.

HP is again aiming high in wanting to disrupt a major industry with its newest technology, partnering with industry leaders to better reach its aspirations. The company shows no signs of slowing down in seeing its technologies applied across a variety of verticals, bringing local manufacturing to greater heights and scalable usage.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]


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