By Olivia Cahoon
A complete 3D printing platform encompasses both printers and software. Depending on the object, 3D printing software accounts for all product specifications, including size, shape, and support. While some manufacturers use proprietary software, others opt for fully customizable platforms that offer design and process automation.
Founded in April 2016, Tailored Fits AG is a winter sports gear and tailored footwear specialist based in Horw, Switzerland. As a startup company, it operates with three employees offering ten different types of custom insoles for various sports activities and is currently launching tailor-made ski boots.
“We started with the idea of developing an industrial solution for customized footwear, sporting goods, and protective gear, along with an innovative end-to-end digital supply chain,” comments Reto Rindlisbacher, CEO, Tailored Fits.
The sports and footwear specialist launched its custom-made insoles for skiers in February 2017 in two test markets—Germany and Switzerland. According to Rindlisbacher, Tailored Fits plans to go global step by step. “Our commercial focus is on the German-speaking alpine countries.”
Above: Tailored Fits performs a virtual, digital boot fitting in house using a custom software tool to morph and simulate leg movements.
Custom Fit Boots & Insoles
Tailored Fits’ business started with the intent to use 3D printing technology for customized sportswear. It is now key to the manufacturer’s custom product offering. In Fall 2015, the sports gear specialist approached Materialise, a provider of additive manufacturing software and 3D printing solutions, and started investigating 3D options. “Right away we started a co-creation process with Materialise,” shares Rindlisbacher.
Together, Tailored Fits and Materialise launched an end-to-end digital supply chain for custom fit ski boots. A customization platform for wearables co-developed by both companies supports the supply chain, which includes a custom interface, design automation, and process automation.
The footwear ordering process begins with trained personnel that perform anatomically detailed 3D scans of the consumer’s feet and legs using tablets at specialized sporting goods or orthopedic retail partners. For custom fit insoles, the scanned data and additional biometrics—like intended sporting condition details—are immediately transmitted to Tailored Fits.
“In collaboration with Materialise, we established a fully automated product design process that leads directly from the 3D scan to 3D printing the personalized insoles,” explains Rindlisbacher. After assembling and finishing, the insoles are shipped directly from Materialise to the retailers and distributed to the consumers.
In the case of ski boots rather than insoles, Tailored Fits receives the scans and performs a virtual, digital boot fitting in house using a custom software tool to morph and simulate leg movements. Materialise takes the data and processes the boot design to the tailor-made boot liners for 3D printing. After printing, the liners are finished with a textile coating and assembled with Tailored Fits’ injection molded ski boot shell. The boots are then sent to the recipient.
The digital commerce platform integrates retailers, consumers, and manufacturing to guarantee a proper information workflow. “Consumers scan data, which reaches us digitally. We send a digital order confirmation to both the consumer and retailer, Materialise receives the order and data for processing, and Materialise digitally updates production and shipping status,” explains Rindlisbacher. “All parties in the value chain—retailer, consumer, manufacturing, and Tailored Fits—benefit from the shared information.”
Tailor-made insoles for various sports take a maximum of ten working days to complete from scan to product delivery. For the tailor-made ski boots, the process from scanning to shipping typically takes 20 working days. Customized ski boots are available in eight different textile colors.
Over the course of one year Materialise and Tailored Fits developed a customization platform for wearables. During this time, Materialise introduced a fully automated design software solution to make Tailored Fits’ vision of launching an all-new digital supply chain for ski boots a reality.
To meet this goal, Materialise needed to custom develop design and process automation software. After the consumer is 3D scanned at a retail store, the software creates a virtual anatomical replica of their legs and feet. This input is passed through to the design automation software, which creates the ideal shape of the ski boot around the leg anatomy.
Kristof Sehmke, PR manager, Materialise, says the software also populates the boot’s interior with lightweight latticed zones at specific points where the boot needs to cushion the leg and conversely denser support, which creates harder zones where the leg requires support.
“The input is scanned as biometrical data. The output is the personalized design with tailored interior constructions to steer the flexibility, softness, and torsion patterns for an individual pair of insoles,” offers Rindlisbacher.
Once the design is finalized, the process automation software transfers the data to Materialise where the 3D file enters the production queue. A few days later, the printed boots are sent to Tailored Fits for final assembly and distribution.
The Printing Process
Custom fit boots are manufactured using thermoplastic polyurethanes on a German RepRap GmbH x400 3D printer. It transforms CAD designs into models for customer presentations, fitting, testing, mold preparation, prototyping, and end use production.
The x400 printer operates up to 150 millimeters per second with a maximum build platform of 15.4×15.7×12.6 inches. According to Rindlisbacher, the 3D printer was selected for its build envelope and the capability to adapt to producing soft materials.
Tailored Fits also uses a BQ Witbox 3D printer for retail store demonstrations and promotional purposes. “We use them to do some prototyping for orthotics and insoles, and everything possible for our offices—even our espresso cups are 3D printed,” shares Rindlisbacher.
In addition to software and production, Materialise also supports Tailored Fits by co-creating the product’s concept. When the sports gear manufacturer contacted Materialise, it had little experience with 3D printing technologies, materials, or comparative strengths, but it did have a clear vision of the target market.
“Ski insoles have to be flexible, closed on all surfaces, supportive, and perfectly responsive to the movements of the skier. Armed with that market insight, Materialise added in our expertise with 3D printing and went through a series of ideas, eventually concluding with the identification of the right technology and material for the ski boots,” says Sehmke.
Materialise and Tailored Fits’ collaboration highlights the value of a co-creation approach. According to Sehmke, mass customization requires a constant feedback loop between what technology can realize and what the market needs. “That’s exactly what we achieve by working closely with brands to develop products from stage one,” adds Sehmke.
Mass customized ski boots also contribute to Materialise’s mission of innovating product development towards a better and healthier world. “Ski boots have always been considered uncomfortable gear. They were either very performance based and very rigid—as the pros used—or comfortable but not performance based. It seemed like this was a choice one had to make,” explains Sehmke. “Tailored Fits has a product that challenges that choice with ski boots that combine excellent performance with comfort.”
Materialise continues to manage and enhance Tailored Fits’ automation process while also providing 100 percent of the production capacity required to support the supply chain. With its custom fit solution, Tailored Fits looks to the future and hopes to decrease turnaround time and increase its printing speeds.
Mass Customized Production
Tailored Fits’ 3D printing platform provides skiers with the option to fully customize their ski boot liner or the entire ski boot for optimum comfort and performance. By partnering with Materialise, the sports gear specialist accesses additive manufacturing expertise and develops a 3D printed solution for making mass customized production a reality. “Our offering only works with 3D printing—precise serial reproduction of individual anatomical shapes,” shares Rindlisbacher.
Mar2019, Industrial Print Magazine