3D printing is already revolutionizing the custom manufacturing of orthopedic insoles.
Scanning and digital manufacturing are fundamental tools to make the orthopedic business more profitable. Here, we’ll explain all the basics.
Do you want to know what projects are underway and what state they are in? Then keep reading because we’re just getting started.
What is an orthopedic insole?
Some of you may have never even used conventional insoles, so we’re going to explain roughly what they are for. Insoles are an element that is placed inside the shoe to adapt it to the user’s foot. There are generic insoles, which we can buy in any store such as Amazon, and orthopedic insoles, designed to fit each user and to solve specific problems such as flat feet, valgus feet or clubfeet.
Traditional orthopedic shoe inserts are usually made using molds taken directly from the user’s foot, which is a rather tedious and expensive process. Once the foot mold is in place, the insole must be designed to adapt to the foot and solve the medical problem the user has, which is not a trivial process. Finally, these insoles are manufactured using polymers of different hardnesses depending on the problem to be solved. The hardness usually varies between values of 25 and 65 on the Shore A scale.
What are 3D printed orthopedic insoles?
3D printed orthopedic insoles are basically a substitute for conventional ones manufactured under the digital manufacturing paradigm. Digital manufacturing does not only encompass 3D printing, but also involves the use of CAD software for design as well as CAE or computer aided engineering programs.
Under this paradigm, insole manufacturing becomes something totally different:
- The original foot is replicated by 3D scanning instead of using traditional moulding.
- With the foot scanned in 3D, the insole is designed digitally rather than fabricated directly by hand.
- The insole is finally produced by 3D printing, and you can choose from multiple materials and even combine several in one model.
That is, even though we talk about 3D printed insoles, don’t think they are the same as traditional orthopedic insoles but using 3D printing. The insoles made under the digital fabrication paradigm are at another level, both in terms of customization capacity and in the complexity allowed in the insoles themselves.
We have told you about the two projects we consider most interesting, but there are many more. Here’s a few of them in case you want to check them out.
What projects involve 3D printed insoles?
There are several projects, and we already told you about one of them in our article on 3D printed footwear: Gyrobot. We are also going to discuss another very interesting alternative: Zoles
Gyrobot is a 3D design and additive manufacturing company that designs and manufactures products for sectors such as aeronautics, military, space and medical. Within the wide spectrum of products they offer, they have a specific solution for the design of insoles for 3D printing: Gensole
Gensole is a browser-based tool, such as Tinkedcad, that allows us to design insoles to be printed in 3D.
To design our insoles we start with a scanned model of our foot to give the base form of the insoles in a process called “Solemorph”.
In order for the insole to adapt to our step and correct any problem in it, it is necessary to add areas of varying hardness within the insole. This can be achieved by using different materials or, as in this case, by varying the density of the internal mesh. This solution is very ingenious, since it allows to print these templates using a common monomaterial printer and to vary the hardness of each zone through changes in its design.
Finally, we can modify the general shape of the insole to fit our specific footwear. It is not the same to use an insole for a sports shoe as an insole for a high-heeled shoe. In order to adapt to the specific footwear in which we are going to use them, there is a tool available to profile the insole.
Both on their website and in this thingiverse article you can find a lot of documentation about it, as well as more images and comments from people who have used gensole. We leave you a video so you can go deeper if you are interested.
Zoles is a totally different project, more like a normal commercial product like those that regular consumers are used to.
It is a company with a less “maker” approach since they sell us the soles already manufactured directly without having to design or print them ourselves. Through several photos of our foot that we must send, they model the insole and manufacture it for us.
We can choose in which type of shoe we want to place our insoles so that, in this way, they are designed according to a specific footwear. There are many different shoes to choose from so, even if we do not have the possibility of manually customizing the shape of the insole, we should not have any problem.
Zoles is a much simpler and more direct alternative than gensoles, since we only have to take 5 photos of our foot. We avoid the whole process of scanning the foot and designing the insole, as well as the manufacturing itself, which can be complicated unless you have a professional printer. The price of your insoles is between 100 and 120 euros, which is not unreasonable for this type of orthopedic insoles.
The image capture process is quite interesting, since, with only 5 photos it captures all the geometry necessary for the design of the insole. This is quite surprising considering that to scan a foot in 3D using photogrammetry would require tens (if not hundreds) of photos. The process is very well documented in their guide.
Printing 3D insoles in Bitfab
We have told you what orthopedic insoles are and why they are a necessity for many people. We have shown you two different projects: Gensoles, a project by makers and for makers and Zoles, a more commercial project for the more everyday user.
In Bitfab we have embraced digital manufacturing, so we are ready to design or print for you your orthopedic insoles. If what you need is someone to advise you in the process, in Bitfab we are also experts in that. Do not hesitate to consult with us; we will be happy to assist you.