It’s amazing how many of the things in science fiction books, television shows, and movies have become part of reality. For instance, in “Star Trek” the crew could go to a Replicator and order food, drinks or anything they could program into the computer. Before long, the item would appear. With the technology we have now, a similar convenience has become a reality for many years now. Just think of the food delivery apps we use when ordering takeout!
However, it’s now also possible to actually create items right from the computer itself. To this end, several manufacturers have created 3D printers. One company, MakerBot, has created a printer that the average person might be able to purchase. It’s called The Replicator, which you can use to download a number of projects from the internet and copy them out for your own use.
Before long, rather than going to the store to purchase what you need, you may be able to download what you want from an online catalog and print it out at home. Customers will definitely be glad of this convenience, as they might be able to get a pair of shoes without waiting for the delivery. We’ll talk more about 3D printing and its application to shoe production below:
About the Process
The process, called “atoms into bits,” was first used with music. Originally, the music was recorded onto plastic disks with deep etches. Music can now be captured, copied, and distributed without a physical product. The same is also true of books and magazines. Rather than having to purchase a physical book or magazine, you can now download them from the internet in digital form.
How would this new technology play out? Will it truly be possible to download a program with a pair of shoes from the internet and print them off at home? Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, believes it will happen but does not know how soon it would be possible.
In order to make use of this technology, the user would have to purchase computer-aided design (CAD) software and the 3D printer itself. The printer lays down plaster dust in both horizontal and vertical directions. The dust is built, layer upon layer, and fused together to create the 3D object. This technology is already used in engineering and architecture. Medical companies are printing implants that resemble actual bones; while dentists are using the technology to create dental crowns. One company, Shapeways, will print any design you upload to their website and then ship it to you.
As with all technology, 3D printing was extremely high in cost when it first came out. This was just one of the reasons why it wasn’t really meant for the public in its initial stages. Fortunately, experts believe the price for 3D printers will fall in the future, which will make it easier and cheaper for the average family to have their personal unit. At the very least, we may reasonably expect educational institutions and laboratories to own their separate 3D printers.
Examples of Use
Melissa Shoes, a Brazilian footwear company, is using this technology along with a proprietary plastic called Melflex to create their shoes. Rather than having to go through the current process of product design and development, along with the exorbitant costs this incurs, the company is able to design and print shoes for display. This way, they can see how well their ideas will sell prior to having large quantities of them made.
Silvia Fado is a well-known designer of Spanish footwear. Her company utilizes technological advances such as laser cutting plus 3D printing to achieve rapid prototypes. The inspiration for this use was through the engineering, architecture, and other industries that were benefiting from 3D printing technology.
While Fado’s main focus may be on the stylish designs and fashion trends for shoes, there are other factors to consider. These include whether the shoe allows for easy movement, or whether they’re wearable at all. The comfort and durability also have a lot to do with whether a certain design is ultimately successful. With the help of 3D printing, this company is hence able to give their customers both an aesthetic experience along with a functional purpose for their footwear.
Trying Out New Manufacturing Processes
3D printing is also useful in several industries for the development of new manufacturing methods and processes. It can hence expand the opportunities and possibilities available to any company or organization. The shoe industry is no different in this regard, with the startup Feetz being a good example of this utilization.
Feetz is headed by Lucy Beard, who strives to offer her customers shoes that are stylish yet comfortable. Along with this, the company is also focused on environmentally-friendly procedures in order to save the planet. Hence, Feetz developed a 3D printer of their own using the Fused Filament Fabrication technique. They also patented a polymer material for their printing purposes.
This way, they were able to rethink their manufacturing process from starts to finish. Since they also use recyclable material, recycle their waste, and have no water in their process, their manufacturing is much more sustainable. They’ve hence reduced their carbon footprint by 60%. 3D printing has a large role in this achievement, as there’s little material waste involved in this method.
From the discussion above, it’s evident that 3D printing is fast gaining popularity in the shoe industry. This means we might be looking forward to more designs, cheaper options, and less waste to boot. We can hence become more responsible citizens, buying shoes only from conscientious manufacturers that use 3D printing for environmental purposes.
Can the ability to design and print your own shoes be too far off in the future? Can 3D-printed shoes be the latest in the shoe fashion? Only time can tell.