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Technologies for the Design Process

In order to start dealing with the technologies that are used in this process, we must give a definition of where its boundaries are; by design process of a shoe we mean the sequence of phases and operations that go from the first style concept of a new footwear, through its complete design (engineering of the shoe), to prototyping its components, making the first samples and running preliminary production batches to accurately estimate time and costs of production. These various operations, possibly iterated a few times and repeated for each new product and for each new collection, define the so called “product development”  process. We will not go in details in describing the goals and nature of each of those activities; we will rather concentrate on listing the most relevant technologies that are nowadays available to support this part of the work.

Talking of the design process, inevitably leads us to talk about CAD software and applications used to support, speed up and to make more efficient the shoe design work. It must be said that the CAD applications currently available are not adequate to support the most creative part of the design work of a new shoe; the first sketches and drawings of a new model are still done in a manual way and only afterwards they are transferred in a digital format. Systems of this kind that are currently available include:

  • CAD systems for pattern and shoe design
  • CAD systems for last design
  • CAD system for bottom design
  • CAD systems for accessories

 We finally consider here a set of diversified software applications used to support and speed up the design work of accessories such as heels , metal accessories and similar; the most important applications in this area are certainly those ones used for heel design, both for the design itself and for the generation of the CAM data for their manufacturing.

It is impossible, in the few pages of this article, to go in details in the various and powerful functionalities that all the applications we have mentioned, to a greater or smaller extent, have or in assessing points of strength or weakness of the solutions proposed by the different vendors; a visit to their websites or to any shoe technology exhibition can give a very good insight into this matter. We only want to conclude this part on CAD systems, by highlighting two very relevant aspects to be considered:

  1.  integration: saying that there are different software applications each one dedicated to a specific design task, means that data need to be exchanged from one application to the other or from one subject (supplier) to the other (shoe manufacturer); this raises on the one hand the problem of using appropriate standard formats to describe and transfer the data in order to make this transfer the smoothest possible, and on the other the need of having as much as possible, integrated systems in which all the various design activities can be performed in one unique environment and with a unique data representation. This last one is certainly one of the most important evolution line for the future generations of shoe CAD system.

  2. link to manufacturing; we mean here the possibility of using all the information possibly available and generated during the design phase to furnish data to the NC machines that are present at the shop floor level; this would allow a seamless integration of design and manufacturing activities, that can lead to very relevant potential savings in term of time needed to launch production and to serve the market. Once more this calls for appropriate software functionalities in the CAD / CAM systems and again of a common standard representation of data to be transferred from the design level to the manufacturing level (ASSOMAC the Italian association of shoe machinery producers is leading a strategic action in this area aiming at developing and proposing a modern and efficient standard to be universally adopted in the footwear world)

We cannot conclude this section without at least mentioning two other very relevant technologies that play an important role in this phase. Designing the shoe is certainly the most important activity to be performed, but the design and engineering activity cannot be considered to be completed until other operations are performed like: defining its bill of materials in which nature and quantities of the various materials and components that make up the shoe are listed, or detailing the sequence of operations that are necessary to manufacture the shoe itself (with the resources required , the timing for the various operations and so on). This kind of activities imply gathering data from different sources (part of them are generated in CAD systems, other may come form ERP systems or from external sources) , managing them in an aggregated and efficient way, updating them constantly in relation to design changes and so on. This is typically the domain of PDM (Product Data Management) software systems that start to be offered as specific solutions for the footwear companies and that are finding their way among the most modern shoe companies.

Last but not least we would like to mention here among the enabling technologies that are relevant for the design process, rapid prototyping and rapid tooling systems. They encompass a wide variety of machinery, still to be considered sort of “peripherals” of the CAD systems more than true manufacturing equipment, that can rapidly transform and concretize a design in a physical object; there are several technologies available nowadays that can be used for this scope: from stereo lithography to laser sintering,  from deposition modelling to 3D printing and suppliers of such technologies (not specifically though of course for footwear applications) are numerous.

The most advanced technologies for the shoe and leather goods sectors are exhibited at SIMAC - TANNING TECH
Bologna 28. - 30. October 2008


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