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A step forward for footwear


Tired of resigning yourself to wearing uncomfortable footwear or hunting for hours in search of the right shoes, but think a made-to-order pair will be prohibitively expensive? Think again. A European project has come up with a solution.

Around 300 people across Europe are currently wearing footwear that better fits their feet thanks to trials carried out by the ERGOSHOE project last year. Many more are likely to do the same as the European Commission-funded initiative brings its results to market.

By using a laser foot scanner to create a 3D computer model of a person’s feet, the ERGOSHOE system bridges the design gap between shoe manufacturers and customers, allowing shoe comfort to be improved efficiently and at relatively low cost in the mass market, and in niche markets such as healthcare and worker footwear. In turn, it promises to boost the competitiveness of European shoemakers, who produce 700 to 800 million pairs a year, against Asian imports that amounted to 1.6 billion pairs in 2004.

“Traditional shoe manufacturing business models are not designed for personalised treatment but rather mass production,” notes ERGOSHOE coordinator Enrique Montiel at INESCOP in Spain. “With our system to create digital foot models, we have made personalised treatment more feasible.”

In the mass market, the system would primarily help manufacturers better adapt their designs to their customers at large while vendors could use the scanner and 3D model analysis to direct customers to shoes that best fit their feet. It would also allow customised shoes to be produced for individual clients, which Montiel estimates would only cost around 10 to 20 per cent more than a mass produced pair. The hardware and software costs between 6,000 and 15,000 euros to implement.

“Our trials in the shoe departments of stores in several countries showed that people are more than willing to have their feet scanned. In fact, the technology would attract customers to the store and increase customer loyalty,” the coordinator notes.

In niche markets, the ERGOSHOE technique also offers important benefits. The system was tested in a hospital for patients suffering from diabetic foot syndrome and allowed made-to-measure footwear to be returned to the patient from the manufacturer in around 10 days compared to the 30 to 40 days it takes using traditional measuring and plaster moulding methods. In the labour footwear segment, supermarket workers involved in the trials said they were very satisfied with the shoes produced using the system, which were better adapted to their needs.

The healthcare partner, Hospitales Nisa, is planning to implement the system fully, and the consortium is also in commercial negotiations with a large department store chain.

Tara Morris | alfa
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