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3D Printing for Footwear and Podiatry

You know what they say about big feet. Big feet, big shoes. According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), Americans buy more shoes than any other country in the world. In 2013, your average American bought 7.5 pairs of shoes. Your average American woman will spend over $20,000 on shoes in her lifetime, buying around 268 pairs, a fifth of which will never be worn (rolls eyes.) It’s no surprise then that global footwear is estimated to be a $370 billion industry. Since most of your waking hours are spent on your feet, it only makes sense that you should invest in quality footwear to improve your quality of life. If only you could find a company that could make you the perfect pair of shoes that are made for your two unique feet.

The idea of using 3D printing to create custom shoes isn’t that novel. It kind of makes sense considering that few people have feet that match some pre-defined size and shape. There are companies that allow you to create a custom pair of shoes based on appearance, but not on size. That would require some measurement method that could include:

  • Sending you a piece of special foam which you would stand on to create a foot impression, then send back to the company
  • Using some sort of 3D scanning hardware to scan your feet – which exists, but most people don’t have laying around
  • Going to some location and having your feet measured

The lead time that’s required for this to happen wouldn’t accommodate the sort of impulse shopping that results in ownership of 268 pairs of shoes. Still, there could be a market for people who have “special feet” for which they have a hard time finding shoes that accommodate them – like Shaq, who wears a U.S. size 23. Let’s look at some companies out there using 3D printing for footwear and podiatry applications.

3D Printing Shoes for Runners

3D Printing for Footwear: Adidas company logo. Click to go to company websiteExpensive running shoes might be a waste of money for your average weekend warrior who runs half marathons for charity, but that doesn’t stop people from around the world from spending more than $63 billion on athletic footwear. Runners, in particular, are the type of people who might pony up the big bucks for a custom pair of shoes that they think might help them shave a few minutes off their PB. That’s what Adidas is hoping anyways, as they seem to be targeting runners with their Futurecraft 4D offering:

3D Printing for Footwear: Futurecraft 4D from Adidas

Source: Adidas

The company behind that 3D printing technology, Carbon 3D, was featured in our recent article titled Trio of 3D Printing Startups Join Unicorn Club. The shoes are not available yet, but you can sign up to be notified when they are. We have no idea how they plan to measure you or the extent to which they’ll be customized for your unique size. Other large footwear companies working on 3D printing footwear include Reebok (working with BASF), Ecco (with Dassault Systèmes’ FashionLab), and Nike (with Prodways everyone says, but Prodways suspiciously removed Nike’s name from this 2017 press release, so maybe not.)

3D Printed Sandals and Insoles

3D Printing for Footwear: Wiivv company logo. Click to go to company websiteRemember the problem we discussed earlier about how to measure your feet? This next startup figured out a unique way to solve it. Founded in 2014, Canadian startup Wiivv has taken in $7.5 million in funding so far to develop their custom sandal and insole offering. (When you have to tell people how to pronounce your company’s name – it’s pronounced weave – you didn’t do a good job picking your company’s name.) Download the app, take some pictures of your feet, and ten days later you’ll be boring all your mates talking about how comfy your new sandals are:

3D Printing for Footwear: Wiivv Ad

The resulting pictures use 200 data points to map your feet – Source: Wiivv

All Wiivv products are 3D printed on-demand in their factory in San Diego, so no waste. Help save the planet and feel good while doing it. The marketing slogans practically write themselves. A pair of men’s custom fit sandals will set you back $129. Wiivv is also doing some co-branding with giant footwear brand Dr Scholls. (Maybe a possible acquisition by SSL International down the road?)

3D Printed Insoles for Everyone Else

Click to go to company logoAcross the pond we go, to visit our next startup which has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to also offer 3D printed insoles. French startup Scientifeet has developed an entire system around creating soles for your shoes using their own proprietary measuring device, PodoClic, and is said to deliver your custom soles within 5 days. Here’s the process in a nutshell:

3D Printing for Footwear: Scientifeet process

Source: Scientifeet

This offering seems more targeted towards podiatrists as opposed to the direct-to-consumer approach that Wiivv is taking. Rumor has it that both companies used the same marketing agency which excels in coming up with hard-to-pronounce names.

3D Printed Insoles for Everyone

3D Printing for Footwear: Phits company logo. Click to go to company website

Staying across the pond, we come to our next startup which is located in a country that shares a border with France, and consequently, 39% of her people speak French. Founded in 2014, Phits insoles has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop 3D printed insoles alongside another Belgium 3D printing company, Materialise. The process starts when you visit one of the many authorized dealers around the globe who will use pressure plates to determine your gait. A 3D printer will then transform the design into ultralight insoles. Finally, the 3D printed insoles will be finished using a shock-absorbing comfort layer. Most shoes can accommodate Phits insoles, and it’s quite impressive to see how many dealers they have spanning the globe already.

3D Printing for Orthopedics

3D Printing for Footwear: Additive Orthopaedics company logo, Click to go to company websiteUsing 3D printing for orthopedics is becoming so popular now that someone actually wrote a paper on the topic – Additive manufacturing applications in orthopaedics: A review. Since reading academic papers will bore you to tears, just read about our next startup instead. Founded in 2015, New Joisey startup Additive Orthopaedics (the word orthopedics is actually spelled two ways) has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop “3D printed orthopedic devices specifically for the extremities.” We chatted with one of their investors who told us that they now have five six devices that have received FDA clearance, the latest being a bunion correction system. Here’s a look at their technologies:

3D Printing for Footwear: Additive Orthopaedics 6 devices

Source: Additive Orthopaedics

Note that General Electric – a company that we’ve discussed before in the context of 3D printing – is also playing in this space as well. A possible suitor for a future acquisition?

3D Printing for Podiatry

3D Printing for Footwear: OLT Footcare company logo. Click to company websiteAs if there weren’t enough boring medical terms already, we’re going to introduce you to two new words to add to your lexicon; orthotics and orthoses. Both those terms refer to custom external devices that a doctor prescribes so that you don’t walk like a gimp can walk normally and without pain. Consequently, it’s something your insurance company might pay for. Our next company certainly hopes that foot doctors everywhere will use their platform which builds orthoses for podiatrists (foot doctors). With offices in the U.S. and China, Canadian startup OLT Footcare started out as a crowdfunding project but has since turned into a company with claims to provide “the most advanced and comprehensive additive manufacturing solutions for foot orthotics available today.” They’re peddling a “3D foot scanner + 3D printer” package for manufacturing custom foot orthotics by 3D printing. We have no idea how many of these packages are being sold, but if the company reaches out to let us know, we’ll pass it on.

3D Printed Shoes While You Shop

3D Printing for Footwear - Resa Company logo. click to company websiteThese days, startups need to have CrunchBase profiles or else we can’t tell when they were founded or how much funding they’ve taken in. Unless you’re our next startup, RESA Wearables, which has recently emerged from stealth mode with kiosks that will 3D print shoes while you shop. “We are able to make custom orthotics that would cost $500-800 down under $300,” says the company, which apparently has kiosks popping up in Costco stores now. If you’re wondering about the name, “resa” is a Swedish word meaning “to travel or rise”. Here’s what their kiosk will look like:

3D Printing for Footwear - Resa Kiosk

The company’s proprietary scanning system captures every detail of your feet in three dimensions. Insoles are designed specifically for one individual based on activity level, medical need and foot structure. Custom insoles are then 3D-printed with a high-quality thermoplastic in about an hour.

Conclusions

Back in the days of 3D printing hype, people speculated that everything would be available from neighborhood 3D printing shops that would produce anything on demand. Then everyone realized that you could get the Chinese to make anything you want for much cheaper. Fast forward to today and we see niche areas – like footwear and podiatry – where 3D printing is making good headway. This notion that companies need to try and predict how many sizes of shoes they need to produce for a population is a moving target, and it does make more sense to just build shoes on demand. Then again, when you have a population that buys shoes and never wears them, maybe footwear companies should stick with the spray-and-pray approach for the sheep and offer the custom 3d printed footwear to people who are willing to pay for quality.

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