German plastics manufacturing firm OECHSLER is teaming up with Sneakprint GmbH to offer sneakers featuring custom 3D printed midsoles. These midsoles will be manufactured in Germany by OECHSLER using 3D printers from digital light processing (DLP) firm Carbon and then integrated with shoes crafted in Portugal. Priced at €439 ($468), the custom sneakers offer a unique approach to fit and comfort.
To obtain a pair, customers pay upfront and receive an impression box. At home, they step into it, which is later 3D scanned to capture the unique shape of their foot. Additionally, customers will step onto an included impression sheet designed to record plantar pressure—essentially mapping the contact and mechanics between the foot and the shoe. This data is then used to create a personalized insole, which is shipped to Portugal to be seamlessly integrated into the final shoe.
This model for 3D printing footwear stands out as one of my favorites so far. The combination of plantar pressure mapping and the impression box allows for a genuinely customized midsole, tailored specifically for you. While a standard 3D printed midsole may seem like a mere novelty, this collaboration takes it a step further. By providing a midsole that’s uniquely sized, it has the potential to outperform traditional insoles consistently. Finally, we’re seeing a 3D printed shoe that could genuinely offer consumers real benefits, which is crucial for moving beyond the hype and making 3D printed footwear a sustainable and successful reality.
The team is explicitly optimistic that these shoes will offer better fit and heightened comfort. The custom lattices in the sole aim to provide optimal cushioning and support, specifically tailored to individual foot shape, gait, and activity level. This promises enhanced comfort, shock absorption, and overall performance—certainly a tangible improvement over conventional soles that come in limited sizes and are designed to fit a generic foot shape. Given the premium pricing, it’s essential to address any potential objections. While the technology itself is exciting, the everyday need is for improved footwear. To expand the customer base beyond attendees of events like Formnext, focusing on such practical benefits will be crucial for sustaining the business.
For stakeholders in the value chain, the benefits of this approach must also be substantial. For OECHSLER, 3D printing is rapidly emerging as a key differentiator that could bolster its automotive and manufacturing sectors in Germany. Facing competition from China, adopting cutting-edge technology like 3D printing allows the firm to remain competitive, especially in a high-cost environment for both energy and labor. It’s no wonder OECHSLER has been proactive in projects beyond just footwear; they’ve also been engaged in developing seats and backpacks.
Traditional shoe companies might find a transition to this new model challenging. Partnering with a nimble Munich-based startup could be a smart strategy to speed up adoption of these innovative technologies.
What’s key here is the team’s decision not to 3D print the entire shoe, a path others are pursuing that may eventually pay off but currently yields products that feel alien to consumers. By collaborating with a Portuguese firm, they can innovate while keeping the final product comfortably familiar, offering the same breathability, aesthetic appeal, and comfort as traditional shoes.
Yes, manufacturing in Portugal will elevate production costs compared to countries like Vietnam. However, being located in the EU allows for quick, flexible production close to a significant consumer base. This minimizes fashion risk and enables the rapid production and shipment of shoes once payment has been received online. In my view, this approach is far more intriguing than the traditional model of ordering hundreds of thousands of identical shoes years in advance. If they nail the marketing, this could turn into a highly profitable and significant business opportunity for both OECHSLER and Sneakprint.