While 3D printed footwear, midsoles, and insoles are not new, there’s only one full-service footwear manufacturing facility in the US that provides mass customization to shoes through 3D printing: Washington-based Flowbuilt Manufacturing. The new Flowbuilt facility just opened its doors, and is filled with 3D printers, prototyping materials, and other cutting-edge technologies to solve today’s manufacturing demands and prepare for tomorrow’s business and retail needs.
The team at Superfeet Worldwide Inc., a leader in innovative over-the counter insoles for the active lifestyle and outdoor industries, has perfected the processes and technologies to design individualized footwear and insoles, but did not have a place to work that could help turn its vision into a reality. So the company got busy and built a facility that was well-suited for bringing its customizable footwear products to the market.
“We didn’t set out to open a manufacturing facility. Rather, we set out to revolutionize the way people experience footwear by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” the website reads. “Put simply, we set out to make comfort smarter by combining four decades of biomechanical expertise with the best available tools and technology. We’re pleased to introduce Flowbuilt — the future of footwear manufacturing.”
The Flowbuilt facility combines vision, innovative technologies, and partnerships, such as with the Brooks Running Company, which will leverage Flowbuilt’s technology soon in order to provide the market’s most personalized performance running shoe. The facility’s machines and 3D printers are capable of manufacturing thousands of pairs of custom shoes, thanks to its onsite 3D printing center and prototype lab.
“To date your choices have been very limited when it came to finding the best resources to bring footwear from ideation to fruition in a very quick timeframe, even more so if you wanted to do so with elements of customization. That is, until now,” said Superfeet’s Chief Marketing Officer Eric Hayes. “With Flowbuilt our partners can utilize an end-to-end connected platform, in one location, in the US. We’ve created the new standard for footwear manufacturing and are setting up our partners for success by solving for problems that have yet to be discovered.”
The facility will give footwear brands around the world instant access to consumer solutions that will allow them to achieve first-to-market status. Flowbuilt can create lasts and molds in far less time than normal, which will allow its partners to quickly introduce innovative new footwear.
“As evidenced in our own experience bringing technologies like FitStation and ME3D products to market, we set out to create a clear path for brands to design and deliver their future before anyone else can,” said Chuck Sanson, Flowbuilt Manufacturing’s Director of Business Development. “As their first partner, Superfeet is excited to push the capabilities of Flowbuilt and showcase the advanced manufacturing technologies that can be found right here in the USA.”
The facility has the country’s only commercially available multi-section-injection (MSI) machine, so Flowbuilt partners can create individualized, finished footwear products, with a last size of one, with precision. This unique MSI technology allows brands to personalize the responsiveness of midsoles based on a person’s individual biometric data, which will be collected by HP’s FitStation platform for custom-fitted footwear.
Customers will be able to visit worldwide retail locations to have their feet scanned by FitStation, and this consumer data acquisition gets the process going. Then, Flowbuilt manufactures the custom footwear at its full-service design and development center, which reduces sample times so its partners can quickly achieve full-scale production.
Flowbuilt also provides technology that allows for rapid prototyping and sampling, design, development, and build services for inline footwear.
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