Mold and Last

Forward AM is Revolutionizing Tooling in the Footwear Industry

Breathtakingly rapid development cycles and a fast-moving supply chain that spans the globe – the footwear industry is dynamic like no other.

Two 3d printed, slightly transparent molds (Left: Printed with infill Right: Full material print.) next to a white sneaker with BASF logo and anthracite colored sole.

Project Breakdown

Consumer Goods

Molds and Lasts / Footwear

Why Forward AM?
High-performance AM materials plus deep sector-specific expertise

Forward AM materials used
Ultracur3D® ST45, Ultracur3D® RG35

The result
Tools for the footwear industry enabling faster and more cost-efficient design cycles, shorter time-to-market, and integrated supply chains

Challenge: Staying one step ahead

With the rise of small, highly innovative and truly agile players, this industry is gaining even greater momentum, making it even more crucial for footwear OEMs and suppliers to stay ahead of the game.

Traditional manufacturing has clear limitations when it comes to footwear: The development of a new model prototype and manufacturing different styles in numerous sizes are lengthy processes that eat up time – a precious commodity in this fiercely competitive industry.

Mass 3D printing often comes to mind when considering a printed final part. Until this becomes the footwear industry’s new reality, OEMs and suppliers can already harness the clear benefits of 3D printing in their existing production processes: Additive Manufacturing (AM) now changes the game, as it delivers the competitive advantages of 3D printed molds.

Brand-new molds – overnight

For the footwear industry, molds are a great way to develop new models and designs in a fraction of the time required in traditional manufacturing. Thinking additive radically shortens prototyping, design iterations, and functional tests. Even better, AM’s small batch capability gets a new model mass-production ready without the previous wearisome lead times. This brings a new style to market much faster than before, opening up new competition opportunities for footwear OEMs and suppliers. AM molds, materials and technology now make design individualization, rapid adaptation and size ranging beautifully easy – and irresistibly cost-effective.

Forward AM’s Ultracur3D® ST45 resin is the material of choice for 3D printed molds. This advanced photopolymer delivers high strength, toughness and impact resistance, as well as excellent temperature stability. Thanks to Ultracur3D® ST45‘s easy release, removing the shoe sole from the mold is smooth and rapid.

Unfolded, slightly transparent PU form with a white printed sole, the edge of which still needs to be trimmed.
PU mold printed with Ultracur3D® ST45 by SoonSer (a trademark of Soonsolid) (Source: Forward AM).
The 3D printed, slightly transparent last. Left: Printed with infill Right: Full material print.
The 3D printed last by Forward AM. Left: Printed with infill to reduce material consumption. Right: Full material print for maximum strength. (Source: Forward AM).

Leading footwear OEMs and key industry suppliers know it’s crucial to keep their IP for molds fully confidential, making sure their secret geometries really stay secret – a tall order, considering today’s complex worldwide supply chains and warehouses across the globe. AM now makes it possible for OEMs to produce locally and even in-house: This maximizes IP security while minimizing long, environmentally unfriendly shipping and high-cost stockage.

The ‘last’ is another essential tool in shoemaking. This mechanical form is shaped like a human foot and is used to manufacture and repair shoes. Usually made from polyethylene or hardwood, its form and function have remained unchanged for centuries. AM delivers a definitive game-changer here too: 3D printing the last cuts the lead time to just 6 to 12 hours. Realized with Ultracur3D® RG35, post-processing, fine-forming and polishing become simplicity itself. Even drilling and tapping to add holding pins or hinges is easy and rapid.

Applying AM technology to lasts brings a further decisive competitive advantage: Footwear manufacturers usually have to produce and store lasts in every single shoe size, resulting in a major warehousing headache. Migrating to AM takes storage digital and makes costly warehousing obsolete.

Harnessing the benefits of Additive Manufacturing opens up new possibilities for the fast-moving footwear industry. By 3D printing molds and lasts, OEMs and suppliers can now put their best foot forward, saving valuable time and moving quicker to market. Forward AM is keeping key industry players one step ahead of the competition.

“By utilizing AM, we can greatly speed up our PU mold design and development pace. We are very satisfied with the durability of the 3D-printed mold and flexibility of the 3D-printing process. AM has not only reduced our cost of development, but also added additional dimensions and possibilities to our design loop. We truly believe that AM can serve the footwear industry better.”

Dr. Darren Shih, Innovation Director, Longterm Concept Industry Corp.

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