The much-vaunted potential of mass customization by way of 3D printing is getting a bit of traction, thanks to customer-specific insoles developed by Wiivv Wearables Inc. (Vancouver, BC, Canada). And chemicals company Evonik Industries (Essen, Germany) is lending a hand to the commercialization of this foot care product. A leading global supplier of polyamide 12 for 3D printing, which is used to manufacture the insoles, Evonik has made a minority investment in Wiivv Wearables. The investment is part of a joint venture capital deal with Formation 8, a financial investor headquartered in Silicon Valley, and Canadian seed investor Real Ventures. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.
Starting in fall 2015, Wiivv will 3D print biomechanically optimized insoles adapted to customer-specific anatomies. It plans to integrate electronic sensors into the footwear to capture and record dynamic data, which will enable optimization of movement sequences. Applications include professional sports and the production of movement profiles that, for example, can measure and predict the degree of fatigue of industrial workers. It may also have uses in physical therapy.
The global market for insoles is estimated at about $4.5 billion, according to information provided by Evonik, and in the United States, it is currently growing between 4 and 5% annually.
Wiivv is among the first companies to apply 3-D printing in individualized mass production, says Evonik in a news release.
"Wiivv's business is an ideal match for Evonik," said Dr. Bernhard Mohr, head of Venture Capital at Evonik. "Through our investment in Wiivv, we're supporting the market launch of one of the first individualized mass-produced articles to be manufactured by 3-D printing. This also gives Evonik access to the highly innovative growth market for wearables," added Mohr.
Software developed by Wiivv in collaboration with biomechanics researchers has enabled large production runs using 3D printing. The software converts the individual properties of the customer's foot, based on a set of three photos taken with a smartphone, into the three-dimensional form of biomechanically optimized insoles, explains Wiivv. The data is fed to a 3-D printer, which can immediately begin production of the insoles. Design and development takes only a few seconds, according to Wiivv.
Wiivv prints the insoles at a production facility in San Diego, CA, which also houses a state-of-the art R&D lab.