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 Post subject: Tailor-printed shoes will offer a perfect fit
 Post Posted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 1:37 pm 

Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 5:38 pm
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Tailor-printed shoes will offer a perfect fit

* 15 February 2006
* From New Scientist Print Edition
* Duncan Graham-Rowe

A MANUFACTURING process that can print you a pair of bespoke shoes could put an end to ill-fitting footwear and help usher in an era of mass customisation.

The tailored shoes are built layer by layer using a form of rapid 3D printing called selective laser sintering, in which a laser fuses together particles of a nylon-based material (New Scientist, 4 June 2005, p 26).

Initially the system will be used to make shoes for professional sportspeople such as British Premiership soccer players, says Greg Lever-O'Keefe, creative director and co-founder of Prior 2 Lever (P2L), the London-based company launching the service in April. The aim is then to take the process to the high street, where shops could print you a pair of bespoke shoes in just a few hours.

To produce the personalised boots, the player's feet are first scanned by a laser to obtain a digital model. The player then has to carry out a series of exercises while wearing a force-recording insole called a pedar. This determines the magnitude and distribution of forces acting on their feet. That information is combined with a detailed analysis of their foot and leg structure and gait information to produce a template for the sole and stud arrangement, around which the rest of the shoe is based.

The result is a design that should not only fit better but should also give the feet more protection, says Lever-O'Keefe. "This should give the player the best chances of reducing injury."

The finished design is generated from the blueprint and printed using a technique developed by Siavash Mahdavi of Complex Matters, a spin-off from his research at University College London. Alongside researcher Sean Hanna, Mahdavi has developed a method of designing and printing materials with intricate 3D structures. These can be built to incorporate variations in properties such as thickness, density and strength at different points across their length.

So instead of trying to design the sole based on the forces acting upon it as a whole, Mahdavi's software breaks it up into hundreds of smaller parts and works out what forces each sub-component will experience. The program then calculates what microstructure is appropriate for that particular part of the sole, and the 3D design is replicated by the laser printer. By tailoring the thickness, density and strength of the material for each sub-component, Mahdavi says this technique also allows you to make the shoe lighter.

Mahdavi thinks he can use the microstructures to design objects with very complex properties, for example to make strong but lightweight safety helmets by printing materials so that they exhibit a negative "Poisson's ratio". This characteristic would make the material better at withstanding impacts by distributing a force across its entire structure. He has also talked to aerospace and defence firm BAE Systems, based in Farnborough, UK, about using the technique to develop aircraft wings that are tough and rigid near the fuselage but more flexible at the tips.

In the meantime, the two companies are working to bring bespoke shoes to the masses. To this end P2L plans to program its software to work out from the laser scans what forces act on the person's foot - calculations currently carried out manually from the pedar data by podiatrist and P2L co-founder Trevor Prior.

From issue 2538 of New Scientist magazine, 15 February 2006, page 30

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