3D Printing

Tackling the Impossible with 3D Printing: Making Ski Boots Comfortable

If you were invited to the join the Massachussets Institute of Technology Global Founders’ Skill Accellerator (MIT GFSA) course and had access to MIT’s world class labs, business tools and engineering resources, what would you invent?

For a group of Scottish students from Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh University it was about finding a very practical and innovative way to address the issue of comfortable skiing and snowboarding, even with rental boots.

It may seem like a minor issue — and it’s definitely a 1st World problem — but it is also a highly practical solution. Millions of people ski and snowboard casually every year and fitted in-soles are way too expensive to be considered a viable solution for many of them. 3D Printing (and accurate 3D scanning), however, can drastically reduce the costs of producing a finished custom in-sole. The system, however, needs to be highly accurate so the skill-set required goes from complex mechanical engineering to advanced software development.

What it takes is exactly the set of skills that the six MIT-supported founding members of start-up ALPrint have.

Chris Balmer is a mechanical engineer who is leading the development of the specific materials that will be used for the in-soles, while Rowan Border is working on the software for the 3D scanner, which should be able to create an accurate model from just a few photos along with weight and height data. To develop the software Bowden will use information collected by Ross Flavell, who is developing new methods of analyzing how people move when skiing.

Gavin Balmer, an electrical and electronic engineer, is working on actually building both the 3D printer and 3D scanner that will be adopted. The business related aspects will be handled by Arran Ingram, who has developed the business plan, and Alec EdgeCiffe-Johnson, who wrote the marketing strategy and is looking for sources of secondary revenues to fund the team’s R&D efforts.

Tailor made in-soles are shaping up to be a very interesting area for 3D printing technologies, as they currently are often extremely expensive and produced through complicated and time consuming artisan manufacturing processes. A British firm, FDM Digital Solutions, and an Australian one, 3D Orthotics, are already exploring possibilities in the every day life arena but no one has yet fully explored the sports and winters sports segments. If ALPrint’s project proves successful, finding secondary revenues and new areas of business should be as easy as putting on slippers.