Shoes are not a typical design project for engineers. But 3D printers show that just about anything is possible. In this example, it also shows how these printers free your mind to explore other ideas and possibilities.
Marloes ten Bhömer is an acclaimed designer of provocative and otherworldly shoes. For some of her work, she uses a 3D printer from Objet Ltd. Because of the multi-material printing capability of these 3D printers, she can design and manufacture her shoes to be modular so that they can be dismantled and reassembled for the purpose of replacing parts. One example is the Rapidprototypedshoe.
“My work is very much about liberating design – I use new materials and methods because this helps to break away from conventional approaches,” said Marloes ten Bhömer. “The rapid prototyping process stimulated the idea for this shoe, as the name suggests. I explored the technology and saw that rapid prototyping – adding material in layers – rather than traditional shoe manufacturing methods – could help me create something entirely new within just a few hours.”
Further research led ten Bhömer to Objet’s Connex range of multi-material 3D printing systems. “These printers make it possible to print an entire shoe – albeit a concept shoe – including a hard heel and a flexible upper in one build, which just isn’t possible with other 3D printing technologies,” stated ten Bhömer. “The shoe is printed as a single entity so the parts come off the printer already assembled, and you can still take the shoe apart later on. It is inspiring and opens up the possibility of interchangeable heels and creating custom designs. Also, the possibility of repairs allows for a more realistic product and changes the idea of rapid prototyping into rapid manufacturing.”
The Connex line of Objet 3D printers can combine rubber-like materials and rigid materials in a single prototype; they are used extensively in the footwear industry. Said Gilad Gans, executive vice president of Objet, “As an affordable alternative to factory-produced samples, the process encourages users to review more design alternatives, increasing the potential to produce a more creative or better designed concept.”
“Cost-wise it does make sense to use these printers, particularly for haute couture shoe design,” said ten Bhömer. “I can have prototypes printed in multiple materials with no expensive set-up costs and no minimum quantities. I also have great confidence in the quality of digital prototyping – with conventional shoe mould making, the heel is matched to its left or right counterpart by eye, so there’s always room for error and it can be a slow process. By making the moulds digitally you know the left and right shoes are an exact match and it’s also economical and easier to scale seven different sized pairs, as required for a commercial line of shoes, using specialist software and Objet 3D printing.”