For the PROTIQ Marketplace, we developed a web-based configurator that enables orthopedic technicians to design and order customized orthopedic shoe lasts in just a few minutes. Digitization and medical craftsmanship join forces – developed with paramate.
Tailor-made orthopedic footwear typically takes several weeks to manufacture. Particularly because one essential tool for orthopedic shoemakers is needed before the manufacturing process can even start: a shoe last. A last is the three-dimensional representation of the respective foot, and it serves as the basis for the manual production of the orthopedic shoe.
Until now, two common methods have been employed for last manufacturing. Traditionally, the last is milled from wood. All the relevant measurements of the foot are taken, and the wooden block is then milled and sanded down after hours of precision work. Alternatively, plaster casts of the foot are filled with foam, which after hardening is finely sanded down. These processes are highly time-consuming, material-intensive and correspondingly expensive.
Additionally, the wooden lasts are mostly not manufactured regionally, because European cost structures make them hardly feasible. Rather, they will be manufactured in Asia and then transported to Europe within several weeks. This means that patients have to wait a considerable time for their orthopedic shoes. In addition, the fitting is often not as accurate by means of a few measured values, as a lot of information is lost in the communication process between the orthopedic technician and the last manufacturer.
Therefore, a few weeks will pass before custom manufacturing of the individual footwear can begin. This massive lead time can be significantly reduced by 3D printing. This potential was recognized by PROTIQ – a specialized service provider - for making use of their advanced Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies.
With AM, also known as rapid manufacturing, those lasts can be printed overnight and shipped in a few days. PROTIQ can leverage one of the strongest advantages of Additive Manufacturing: fast and efficient production of individual products.
The material used for last manufacturing must withstand heavy stresses in the orthopedist's workshop. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) has proven to be ideal for PROTIQ in the additive manufacturing of orthopedic shoe lasts. This synthetic plastic advantageously combines the elastic properties of rubber with high resistance to mechanical stress; showing no signs of abrasion. The easy-grip surface ensures a strong and safe hold and the low weight relieves the arms of the shoemaker. 3D-printed shoe lasts are therefore in no way inferior to their wooden counterparts; in many ways even superior to them.
Having the high-quality lasts printed in just a few days enables the orthopedic shoe maker to manufacture the final product in a significantly shorter time frame – without interfering at all with the proven workstream. A digital upgrade for medical handcrafting.
“The central takeaway from this use case is that Additive Manufacturing in the medical field does not have to be all about the final product. Sometimes it is even more meaningful to support the orthopedic technician in his or her conventional way of manufacturing - by combining sophisticated software and physical tools.”
Before an individual shoe last can be printed, the corresponding 3D model must be generated. Classic CAD software can be used for this purpose. However, orthopedic shoemakers do not only lack the necessary design expertise but also the access to appropriate software. Conventional CAD software is very expensive and highly complex to use.
“For me, as an orthopedic shoemaker, I want to be able to concentrate on the medical aspects of my work. The design of 3D model data in classic CAD programs is not one of them. In order to be able to use 3D printing technology for my work in a meaningful way, I need software that takes the actual design load off my hands and guides me intuitively through the configuration process”
PROTIQ offers an answer to this problem as well: A free configuration module on the PROTIQ website that allows orthopedic shoemakers to design customized shoe lasts in just a few minutes. This implementation is, of course, built on our software paramate. paramate's workflow is meant to integrate seamlessly with the common processes of orthopedic shoemaking. Based on 3D scan data and manual measures of the patient’s feet, the configuration is closely aligned to the proven track of manual last design. The handling is so straightforward that neither the qualification of a CAD designer nor AM-compliant design expertise is needed. As a result, orthopedic technicians are empowered to configure shoe lasts completely on their own.
“We always look out for new fields of leveraging 3D printing technology. Printing orthopedic shoe lasts provides a huge time advantage. But we can only lift the full potential if we enable an intuitive design process, too. And that’s where our technology partner trinckle comes in.”
The shoe last configurator was developed in collaboration with experienced orthopedic shoemakers to meet all the needs of shoe last manufacturing. From the idea to the finished configurator, we always tested and developed together to create the best possible tool.
PROTIQ is interested in receiving feedback from the market for this first application release. The software solution is now to be continuously developed further in collaboration with the community of orthopedic shoemakers. With each new iteration, we aim to develop an even more optimized solution in the future.
The potentials of Additive Manufacturing are combined with new paths in the field of automated design; opening new doors for novel applications in the orthopedics space. Here, our cloud-based paramate software represents the crucial element for transforming a formerly very cost-intensive manual process into a scalable serial application.
“We are now capable of serving our customers with a simple and intuitive way to design their individual shoe lasts online – effortlessly, quickly and in the expected high quality. All this thank to the software solution from trinckle, our longstanding partner from Berlin.”
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