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Innovative processes for sustainable footwear production: CAD

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    What impact could the use of virtual prototypes have on the decision-making processes of footwear companies regarding the theme of sustainability?


    Several projects developed in the footwear industry have shown how the use of 3D CAD technologies for three-dimensional pattern-making, photo-realistic rendering and its use in the design of collections can be considered a good practice for eco- design. Leading European centres in the industry have, therefore, recognised that this is one of the best ways to reduce resources used in the process (materials, energy, etc.).


    In a footwear company, the life cycle of a collection passes through a series of basic steps: marketing brief, design proposal, creation of the prototype, choice of the materials and colours to be included in the collection, market proposal, collection of orders, production.

    One of the critical aspects of this process is that it is difficult to select the designs to be included in the collection by analysing the drawings of the shoes. Prototypes need to be made and this is one of the most significant investments for footwear companies, both in terms of cost and time. In fact, in the worst cases, it means engineering and producing components (lasts and soles are the most crucial and expensive) as well as creating the prototypes (an activity often carried out by the same technicians and with the same machinery used to produce shoes of previous collections). If we then want to evaluate combinations of materials and colours, it becomes necessary to produce a number of versions and then eliminate a significant part.


    Some companies mainly the largest, but increasingly more and more medium sized companies have decided to innovate this process by using three-dimensional modelling tools (CAD 3D).


    For many years, CAD systems have been used in footwear companies exclusively to replace pantographs in the development of the series and to control the automatic cutting tables, thus optimising placement of pieces on the materials.


    The inclusion of 3D design in the company is a natural evolution of the design on the shells of the last. It is a way to analyse the design by taking into account the three- dimensional nature of the shoe components to be made. With the great advantage of being able to assess the final aspect of the material and colour combinations of a shoe, starting from the actual material samples.


    For companies that want to move towards the concepts of 4.0 manufacturing, 3D design opens the doors to experimentation with 3D printing. Additive manufacturing has already been used for many years in the footwear industry for the aesthetic evaluation of the design of soles. The recent development of materials and reduction of costs due to the expiry of some industrial patents allows producing prototypes with a functional content that is more and more similar to the materials used for the production.


    This allows obtaining greater rapidity, but also lowering costs - direct and correlated - thanks to a reduction in the number of prototypes and the ability to integrate and share business information, making the comparison between departments (marketing and production) more effective and efficient.


    The investment for adopting such an organisational process (not without its critical issues to be resolved) is now accessible: the prices of the technologies have reduced, 3D modelling has entered into the general culture (also thanks to the spread of 3D printing by consumers), CAD software has been introduced on the market with well-integrated technical and virtual aspects, capable of changing a project faster and updating the cost/consumption card in real time.

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