New outsole design crafted by the ProtoFab SLA450
It’s well known that 3D printing is revolutionizing industries like dentistry and aerospace, but 3D printing is also having a major impact in places not everyone might expect. An example of this is the impact of 3D printing on the shoe industry, an industry that ProtoFab is now closely involved with. Let’s explore how one of China’s biggest footwear brands makes use of SLA 3D printing at the core of the design process.
Qiaodan is one of China's most popular sports shoe brands with annual sales of over 4 billion yuan. We started working with them in 2016 and provided them with one of our SLA450 machines. Like all footwear brands, Qiaodan needs to constantly develop new products and designs to stay fresh in a highly competitive market. Time-to-market is critical in an industry where trends come and go, so making the design process as efficient as possible is a priority. This is where 3D printing comes in.
Traditionally, Qiaodan and their competitors used outsourced CNC epoxy models at the prototyping phase of a new product. In the footwear industry it is necessary to produce physical models of the outsole (the rubbery bottom section of the shoe) before deciding whether or not to move forward with production. The old epoxy models were sufficiently detailed but had several drawbacks. First of all, producing such models took a long time, often more than 2 weeks from sending the design to the external contractor to actually receiving the physical model and being able to assess it. Of this time around a week was taken up by the actual machining, but the actual delivery time would usually be much longer due to limitations in the contractor’s capacity, communication issues, courier delays and some of the other vagaries associated with outsourcing. Qiaodan’s technicians report that they used to allow fully 15 days for this process, and 8 days would be the best-case scenario. In comparison, their 3D printer can now produce the same model in around 20 hours, and the whole process, including 3D modeling and post-processing, takes a maximum of 2 or 3 days. Qiaodan regularly print 6 models at a time in their SLA450, further speeding up the process.