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Technology as a Key Modernity Factor

Technology has always played a key role in virtually all manufacturing activities, and shoemaking is no exception. It was the “technology” of the first machines, thought to alleviate the  labour of the human workers and to make it faster and more efficient, that allowed the transition of shoe making from a craftsman business to an industrial venture, and it is again technology , in terms of product contents, added value and innovation potential that allows shoe producers to be more or less competitive in their outlet markets. Technology is then a necessary condition for success, although it is not sufficient as such to guarantee success and long life to modern footwear companies.

Nevertheless technology is certainly a key modernity factor for footwear companies that want to achieve or maintain a high level of efficiency in their processes and that want to differentiate themselves in aspects such as product quality and, in particular, consistency of quality throughout time and with a lesser dependency on the skill of the workers they employ.

Having said that, it is not easy to give a precise definition of technology; the first very simple tools as well as the first machines conceived more than a century ago, were  up to date technologies at that time. High technology the way we think of it today , “high tech” as we commonly say, recalls notions of automated equipment, packed with electronic devices and  controlled by computers. So the notion itself of technology evolves with time and there is no absolute definition that can be applied to it.

So it is much easier to tackle this complex matter in terms of state of the art of technology rather than trying giving absolute albeit improbable definitions of this often abused term. And outlining a state of the art in design and manufacturing technologies is exactly what we will try to do in this paper with aim of giving the readers a clear picture of how far technologies, in the two mentioned sectors have evolved, and what is their current state of the art.

The product life cycle and the enabling technologies
Prior to starting this state of the art analysis, it is worth making a preliminary comment and introducing the concept of “product life cycle”. The comment clarifies the scope of the analysis, by stating that we will solely concentrate on process technologies, hence we will not deal with all those aspects related to product innovations and to the corresponding technologies (like for instance material technologies) mostly used by shoemakers to develop the shoes they plan to put on the market. Our focus will only be on processes and on the related technologies.

Products (like a shoe) can be thought of having their own life, which, as the life of live creatures, goes through a certain number of phases; a product is first designed, then it is manufactured, once available it is put on the market and sold. Although in the manufacturer’s perspective the selling phase tends to conclude what it is perceived to be the life cycle of the product, two other very relevant phases follow: the use phase which is the one where consumers play their role wearing the shoes the manufacturer has produced for them and, even more important, the dismissal phase when shoes terminate their useful life and are dismissed. It is not the scope of this paper to discuss in details about the use and dismissal phases, but at least a short comment on the two of them is justified.

The use phase is normally “neglected” by the producers who consider their “corporate responsibility” to more or less end with the selling of the shoes; on the contrary this phase is very relevant for consumers because it is precisely in this phase that the responsibilities of the producers in terms of quality of the product and of its effects on the health and comfort of the consumers, concentrate. And something similar applies to the dismissal phase, in which environmental responsibilities lie. Due to huge volumes of footwear that are thrown away every year and that normally end up their lives in landfills, if no appropriate attention is paid on the materials and substances used in the manufacturing of the shoe, the concrete risk exists that such product can pollute the environment in which,  after a normally very long periods of time, they will conclude their lives. In conclusion, even though we will specifically concentrate on the design and manufacturing phases (and on their technologies), the other ones of the product life cycle are no less important and they certainly deserve a certain attention.

 

The most advanced technologies for the shoe and leather sector are exhibited at SIMAC - TANNING TECH

Bologna 28 - 30 October

 

(3/4/2008)

  
 
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