This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
The desire for perfect fit, perfect comfort and ultimate performance has been at the heart of footwear design for centuries – but in a world of personalised experiences, most consumers still face the prospect of adapting to shoes that were designed for a standardised foot. ECCO, a world-leading brand of footwear and leather goods, sought to change all that. The company and its Innovation Lab teamed up with Dassault Systèmes to create a ground-breaking experiment to customise shoes for each consumer.
For its QUANT-U (quantified you) experiment, ECCO worked with the FashionLab, Dassault Systèmes’ technology incubator which is dedicated to the use of 3D design, simulation and collaboration applications in home and lifestyle. Together, the companies developed a powerful self-learning system to create customised, 3D printed silicone midsoles that tailor ECCO’s shoes to the exact size, shape and movement of the wearer’s feet.
The midsole is the functional heart of the shoe, playing a key role in the performance and comfort of footwear. With this experiment, ECCO replaced the majority of the standard polyurethane midsoles with 3D-printed silicone inserts, enabling it to fine-tune the material’s inherent properties of viscoelasticity, durability and temperature stability.
“We wanted to focus on the pillar of our business, which is comfort,” says Patrizio Carlucci, head of Innovation Lab ECCO. “By creating a customised internal midsole for one of our bestselling styles, we are able to maintain our standard design intent and traditional construction. Each silicone midsole has its own signature in terms of volume, orthotic shape and dynamic load of the individual’s foot. Additionally, by tuning the density and design of the silicone structures we can create different solutions optimised for specific uses – for example, for static comfort or for more dynamic movement.”
In three simple steps – and little over one hour – the customer can receive a full digital analysis of their feet and walk out of the store with a pair of shoes, complete with 3D-printed customised midsoles.
First, a combination of anatomical scans and sensor data is used to build a unique digital footprint. In only 30 seconds, 3D scanners determine the individual orthotic fit. Wearable sensors then enable the company to build an accurate picture of how the wearer moves in the environment. Sensors and gait analysis algorithms are ECCO proprietary and they rely on more than 50 years of experience in footwear design and manufacturing.
Next, Dassault Systèmes’ cloud-based 3DEXPERIENCE platform, with CATIA applications, interprets the biomechanical data using machine learning and structural simulations to create geometries for 3D printing a custom midsole. Generative designs are validated through advanced simulations to ensure superior functionality for that customer’s foot. The result is an augmented pattern, quantified by the wearer.
Finally, in as little as 45 minutes, the customised midsoles are printed in the store from pure silicone and inserted in the customer’s chosen shoe. Within around an hour from entering the store, the consumer can walk out with a pair of shoes customised to their exact orthotic, biomechanical and preference needs.
As well as potentially revolutionising the way people consume footwear, Carlucci says the 3D printed silicone midsoles inherently represent a more sustainable approach towards product lifecycle. “The silicone is incredibly durable and it will probably outlast the shoe itself,” he says. “It can be printed in the retail environment and taken straight off the printer without any post processing. In addition, with 3D printing there is minimal waste. Eventually, in the future, with a larger number of components being produced, this optimisation will impact significantly the material usage.”
To truly put the customer at the centre of its innovation process, ECCO created a dedicated retail environment that has been used for the experiment, which ran for a limited time at its W-21 concept store in Amsterdam. “This is a different way of consuming, creating a truly localised solution that would allow people to come in, experience the process and go home with their customised shoes,” says Carlucci. “By marrying fashion with technology, we created an environment where people could learn more about themselves. Wearing a different pair of shoes, that is customised to your feet, can make life a bit better. And even without a purchase, consumers could learn more about the way they walk and the way their feet are shaped and return at a later stage with much more insights.”
By pushing the boundaries of product customisation and consumer experience, as well as creating innovative physical components, ECCO’s QUANT-U experiment is an example of disruption in the home and lifestyle industry. It demonstrates on the front end the potential that 3D-based technologies and additive manufacturing solutions hold for fashion businesses of all sizes.
“This experiment is particularly eloquent, as shoes are closely connected with our personal perception of comfort, and it demonstrates how mass-customisation is today a strategy that can be concretely implemented and achieved invisibly to truly deliver value to the consumer, thanks to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on cloud,” says Jerome Bergeret, FashionLab director at Dassault Systèmes. “Dassault Systèmes definitively has a foot in the front end of this customised consumer footwear revolution.”
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