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3D-printed customised footwear created with smartphone app

In an industry plagued by mass-produced products, a San Diego and Vancouver-based start-up has developed an innovative method of producing footwear that is designed to fit the unique contours of your feet.

Of all the benefits 3D printing has to offer, one of the most exciting for many industries is the prospect of customisation. This is exactly what Louis-Victor Jadavji and Shamil Hargovan, cofounders of Wiivv, honed in on with their innovative approach to bespoke footwear.

Their original goal was to create 3D-printed insoles that would work to reduce foot pain and fatigue. After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the company began shipping the customised products to many delighted customers.

The technology behind Wiivv’s Custom Fit footwear is a smartphone app which allows customers to scan their feet from the comfort of their own home, using nothing more than a flat wall and a piece of blank paper. Wiivv then uses the images to digitally map the user’s feet with over 200 data unique points.

Once mapped, the data is then checked by WIIVs own biomechanics experts before being converted to a 3D file which is transferred to a printer to be produced in a batch of around 75 pairs. The product is then cleaned, blasted, polished and dyed, before being combined with conventionally manufactured components. These are bonded and assembled, before being packaged and shipped.

The whole process is designed to take just five days from initial scan to delivery at the customer’s door.

“The companies vision is very bold – to add meaningful active years to people’s lives. This sounds very grand, but essentially means we want to help people do more and achieve more, without damaging their bodies. We are getting testimonials back from customers who can now do something they couldn’t because their back pain has gone, or their foot pain has gone,” says Chris Bellamy, senior product and manufacturing engineer at Wiivv.

“Every day we get feedback from people whose back pain has stopped, are able to run again, or even have been able to run 100 miles when they couldn’t run a marathon before due to foot pain. It’s really surprising us,” he says.

With the insoles proving popular, the company’s next big move is to try and make flip-flops more foot-friendly with fully customised sandals. So far, the idea seems to be a hit. A Kickstarter campaign launched in March quickly became the most funded 3D-printed product in Kickstarter history, more than doubling the company’s $250,000 goal and attracting just shy of 5,000 backers.  

“Traditional flat flip-flops are really bad for us. That’s no secret. So we said, let’s design a sandal that not only looks good, it actually supports your body’s biomechanics throughout the day,” the company states on the product’s Kickstarter page.

Of course, customised footwear is nothing new, but until now it has been rather costly and labour intensive to produce. Where Wiivv’s customised sandals differ is in the use of 3D printing to produce the customised aspects of the product, while maintaining the ‘tried and tested’ aspects of traditional sandal foot beds. This allows for a product that is not only cost effective, but also a lot easier to produce.

“Where customisation is required, or complexity can be reduced, we use 3D printing,” says Bellamy. “If we were to 3D print the whole sandal, it would cost a lot more, be less durable, not look as good and take a lot longer to manufacture. Hybrid products are the most suitable for the foreseeable future until 3D printing speeds and materials catch up in other areas.”

Producing a product based on photos taken on a smartphone is not without its complications, of course, as Bellamy admits that one of the greatest investments in terms of time was in correlating the data captured through images against 3D scans and clinical equipment.

“We continue to invest a lot of time in refining this process and in calibration and quality checking to ensure our system maintains the standards we have set as we scale and process more orders,” he says. “Our biomechanics experts here have now analysed close to 15,000 images of our customer’s feet already – so their skill set and knowledge is pretty unique.”

“The biggest challenge is coping with the variability in environments in which the photos are captured. We allow our customers to capture the data from the comfort of their own home, but it means that we see all sorts of variations in the images captured. We see all sorts of lighting and surfaces, but our favourites are the appearances of dogs and babies!”

Of course, the focus is also on the customer to supply a good set of photos to ensure that their customised footwear is up to scratch. To help with this, the company has attempted to make the app as user friendly as possible, with simple step-by-step instructions and voice-guided narration.

“The usability of our app is critical to getting good results. If people don’t understand how to take their photos correctly then it wastes a lot of time rejecting photos and getting them re-taken. As a result we focus on usability a lot.”

Wiivv’s Custom Fit Sandals can be preordered now and are due to start shipping in August. If the insoles are anything to go by, they could well prove a must-buy for this year’s flip-flop season. 

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