Footwear customization brought to a really new level: Today, I had the opportunity to have the world's first working prototype of a totally new shoe concept in my hands: a 100% laser-sintered shoe. What looks like a normal shoe, is a real revolution and one of the largest achievements I have seen in the mass customization world.
The shoe, developed by Marc van der Zande from TNO Science and Industry (a Dutch research institute) and independent designer Sjors Bergmans of Sjors Bergmans Concept Design, comes out of the manufacturing machine as you see it in the pictures on the left – in one manufacturing process, no assembly required (only some finishing, polishing, etc.)! And no one cares any longer if each product is custom or just a replication of a standard design.
The TNO shoe concept, named 'Head over Heels', is the first application of rapid (digital) manufacturing technologies (more about RM) to an entire product in the footwear industry. Such a concept would allow the rapid customization of shoes to a radical extreme – without any of the constraints of conventional custom manufacturing mechanisms like the need for custom lasts, custom cutting of materials, and a new organization of the work process in manufacturing. With rapid manufacturing, a digital design (CAD) can be transformed directly into a tangible product.
In an earlier venture, UK-Based Prior2Lever introduced a soccer boot that contains a rapid manufactured component, the outsole. But the shoe developed by TNO goes much further. To come up with such a concept, the entire design of a shoe had to be redesigned. A flexible element in the sole allows for high flexibility, and integrated elements in the upper are providing flexible hold.
In the moment, this project is in the proof of concept state. According to a colleague who tested the shoes (in the first design just available in a 38 size), they are at least as comfortable as conventionally produced shoes. Future development will include a wider range of models (including a model for men) and an easily scalable design so that in the end a foot scan can automatically be transferred into a custom design. Also, manufacturing costs have to go down. Today, a pair of rapid manufactured shoes comes still with a heavy price tag of 600 Euros. But TNO project manager Marc van der Zande expects that production costs can be dropped to less than 100 Euro within a few years, given the present speed and scope of application of rapid manufacturing technologies in many industries. With this larger scale, materials and machine costs will become much cheaper.
For me, this shoe presentation today was a great glimpse into the future. Just think five years ahead: Then you may really get your feed scanned, and a moment later, your new shoes will be 3D-printed immediately in the store. With this, the long tail of footwear could be driven to an extreme! But most important, the 'Head over Heels' concept provides a strong further proof that digital manufacturing technologies like laser sintering are not just for prototyping any more, but are rapidly becoming a standard manufacturing technology.
More information on the 'Head over Heels' Laser Sintered Shoe:
- For more information on the footwear design, contact Marc van der Zande (marc.vanderzande AT tno.nl) or Sjors Bergmans (comengo AT gmail.com).
- The concept will also be presented on the TNO Symposium on Rapid Manufacturing, Evoluon Conference Center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Tuesday, Oct 31, 2006.
- Jochen Krisch recently had a good overview on companies offering rapid manufacturing capabilities for everyone in his blog.
- John Marshall writes about the older, but still great application of rapid manufacturing for the lamps of the Benelux company Materialise.
- And my own more recent posts on customization of footwear, Open Source Footwear and the interview with Sergio Dulio on latest developments in this area.