Once upon a time, essentially everything was custom-built to order. It was how merchants earned their livelihoods and established their brands.
If you needed a new suit, you went to the tailor. A new desk was ordered and built to your specifications. New shoes required a trip to the cobbler.
The Industrial Revolution ushered in the era of mass production. Convenience and low cost became the norm and custom-built items were, for the most part, reserved for the uber wealthy.
Don’t get me wrong. Mass production is a good thing. It brought what were once luxury items to the masses. Henry Ford’s assembly line made automobiles extremely affordable and set the standard for how many things would be manufactured from that time onward.
3D printing is starting to change all that. It could be said that 3D printing is the antithesis of the modern-day production line.
With 3D printing, a.k.a., additive manufacturing, manufacturers and makers can make things that were either not possible or not cost effective with conventional manufacturing processes. While I don’t believe 3D printing will do away with mass production, it will enable more and more customization and built to order goods.
One area where customization is extremely beneficial to the consumer is foot wear and, more specifically, shoe insoles. It was not long ago when custom insoles could only be obtained from a few specialized shoe stores or orthopedic specialist.
The merger of advanced sensing, software and 3D printing technologies have made custom insoles readily available and affordable. Thanks to these technologies and some very creative innovators, you can now get custom-made, multi material 3D printed insoles in as short as 1 hour.
In this post I summarize a few of the innovators in the 3D printed insole market space.
The folks at RESA Wearables, based in Prescott, Arizona, have developed a portable, patent pending, kiosk system that scans your feet and fabricates custom insoles while you wait.
Resa, pronounced “ree-zuh”, was founded by Glen Hinshaw a former professional bike racer who used custom insoles to increase his health and performance. Hinshaw’s insoles were made by orthopedic labs and were quite expensive which motivated him to create custom insoles available to anyone who wanted them.
The Resa system uses a proprietary 3D gel-scanner to measure the characteristics of your feet; prints your custom insoles from flexible printer filament and glues on top covers to complete the insole. The entire process takes only about 1 hour.
Available top cover materials includes a 3 mm moisture wicking EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam polymer or breathable Alcantara suede fabric.
Each insole includes your name printed on the bottom is also treated with silver nano-particulate to eliminate bacteria,
Resa custom 3D printed insoles retail for $199 for adult sizes and $129 for children’s sizes. Insoles come with a 90-day money back guarantee and a 1-year quality guarantee.
You can find Resa kiosks at Costo locations across the nation.
Based in Ferndale, Washington, Superfeet sells a whole line of preformed insoles and also offers their ME3D brand of custom 3D printed insoles.
In partnership with Hewlett Packard’s FitStation 3D foot scanning and dynamic pressure mapping technology, Superfeet offers their ME3D custom insoles in approximately 25 stores throughout the USA.
The FitStation scanning technology collects a million data points to measure your foot width, length, arch length, arch height and gait. Using over 8000 sensors your gait pattern is scanned with over 500 points per second and your feet and ankles are mapped to within 0.5 mm.
Your dynamic pressure mapping data is combined with information about your shoes and activity type to create your ME3D insoles. Each insole includes 5 independent, tuned zones around the heel and arch as well as flex lines that are directionally calibrated to the pressure pattern of each of your feet.
3D printing of your ME3D insoles takes about 1 week after your FitStation scan data is received by Superfeet. ME3D insoles retail for $149.95 and come with a 60-day warranty.
Wiivv, pronounced “weave”, based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, takes a slightly different approach to 3D printed insoles. The company offers sandals and insoles with custom 3D printed arch supports
With Wiivv’s process you image your own feet using your smartphone and Wiivv’s custom app, which you download after purchasing your insoles or sandals.
Your image data is then digitally mapped to 200 points per foot to create a 3D model of your insole. Each model is validated by a biomechanical engineer and modified, if needed, for specific conditions such as flat feet.
Your custom arch support structures are printed out of nylon material which is then either molded into a sandal or insole depending on the product your have purchased.
Wiivv sandals retail for $129 and are offered in a number of different strap and arch colors combinations. Straps are interchangeable and include cushioning and a soft, knit toe thong to reduce foot irritation. For the environmentally conscious, sandals can be sent back to Wiivv for full recycling.
Insoles are made from waterproof and sweat proof high performance foam and are offered in full length and 3/4 length formats and retail for $99 and $79, respectively. Your insoles are personalized with your name and can be purchased in a whole host of outer layer colors including “sweater”, “stars”, “forest” and “confetti” among others.
Both sandals and insoles arrive in about 10 days and include a deep heel cup for extra comfort and come with a 30-day, money back guarantee and 1-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Gensole, based in the United Kingdom, takes self supported 3D printed insoles from imaging your own feet all the way to printing your own insoles.
Gensole is a spin off of design company Gyrobot and was founded by Steve Wood who developed a new extruder design and G-code filament mixer software that allowed feeding both flexible and rigid filaments into a single extruder. Wood’s innovations enables printing both rigid and flexible materials within the same layer of the printed article.
With the browser-based Gensole design tool, which is free for makers and researchers, users can design and 3D print custom insoles from the comfort of their home.
Designed specifically for use with flexible filaments and more particularly Filaflex TPU filament, Gensole combines 4 fundamental insole design processes:
- “Solemorph” which shapes the foot contact surface to match the foot scan data
- Variable density honeycomb flex patterns within the insole based on pressure points which can be adjusted in the software
- Optional perforations in the upper and lower surfaces of the insole for airflow
- Adjustable insole design boundary conditions to insure the best fit
Gensole leverages 6 insole shape parameters: heel radius, toe radius, inside width, outside width, instep offset and outstep offset plus heel height, draft angle of heel edge and toe height to define your specific insole shape based on your foot scan which is imported into the design tool.
After defining the insole profile shape with the parameters listed above, your foot scan model is positioned within the insole blank; the upper surface is shaped to your foot scan model using “Solemorph” and multi density zones are generated.
An AMF file is then created for slicing with Slic3r open source software and then sent on to your 3D printer.
Gensole is a powerful and easy to use design tool and while it lacks a foot scanning solution you will be able to readily print and test a number of different support configurations until you get just the right fit.
Some may balk at this approach, concerned that they will print insoles that are not perfect for their feet. Just think about all the different shoes you have or off-the-shelf insoles that were not custom designed for your feet. These all have differing types and amounts of arch support so I don’t see the Gensole solution being any worse than off-the-shelf, mass-produced insoles or your own shoe selection.
As with other aspects of 3D printing technology and 3D printed product configurations, there are a number of pending and issued patents related to 3D printed insoles. The majority of these patents were filed in just the last few years indicating that this field is still relatively young.
The earliest issued patent is US9320316B2, assigned to Under Armour and directed to a 3D printed midsole having a varying lattice pattern to impart differing amounts of compressibility and cushioning to specific areas of the foot.
Other typical applicants of 3D printed insole patents include Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Reebok as you might expect.
All the companies I’ve spotlighted in this post, except for Gensole, have at least one published pending patent related to their 3D printed insole product offerings. Superfeet comes in at the number 1 spot with 2 pending applications and 1 issued patent.
- Resa: US20170255185A1
- HP: WO2018048880
- Superfeet: US10013711; US20180300795A1; US20170360148A1
- WIIVV: US20170027512A1
It’s truly remarkable what 3D printing technology is enabling. From custom 3D printed insoles made to order while you wait to insoles you design and print at home, there is a custom insole solution for you.
Athletes, weekend warriors and those that are on their feet all day now have reasonably priced options for foot comfort and enhanced performance.
I personally like the free design and print at home solution offered by Gensole. If you have a 3D scanner, the Gensole option is even more enticing.
My personal preference notwithstanding, with whatever option you choose, I’m sure you will be much more satisfied than you would be with other off-the-shelf options that are available from your local drug store.
So here’s to 3D printed custom insoles and life long foot comfort.
What will you create?
Please let us know what you think about 3D printed insoles. If you have questions or experience with the solutions I’ve summarized above or other solutions that are out there share your insights in the comments section below.
Jeff is a mechanical engineer, designer, maker and registered patent agent with a passion for and professional emphasis on 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing