Printed footwear

The traditional way of making shoes is to stamp out shapes (creating lots of waste) and then assembling them into units of about a dozen different sizes. Forget finding a pair that fits you right; you’re happy to settle for the ones that fit the least badly. A group of students at Philadelphia University (PhilaU) have developed a way to create custom-fitted footwear using 3D printing and other technology.

The process starts with a 3D scan of the person’s foot. This yields the dimensions used to print a shoe. The fabric upper part of the shoe is custom knitted and molded to fit the foot. The midsole combines cushioning and proper support. They then add bits of rubber in high wear areas on the sole of the shoe.

The result is a custom-fit shoe that provides better support than an average shoe without the need for additional expensive orthotics. The students also wanted to reduce waste and speed production, which is made possibly by the use of 3D printing. Their project has earned the support of Shapeways, which has given them a grant to experiment with new ways to structure the shoe. This is a great example of how new technology can make it practical to have articles of clothing that are designed specifically for an individual. If this process can produce shoes at a competitive price, it could have a huge impact on how we buy them.