Shoe retailer Runners Service Lab plans to take off with 3D printed running shoes

The Flemish retailer recently received a 152 000-euro subsidy from the Flemish innovation agency IWT to investigate the possibility of manufacturing affordable custom-made running shoes with 3D printers.
The Louvain-based company Materialise, one of the world leaders in 3D printing, is also involved in the project. Materialise is a well-known player in healthcare applications such as printed dental prostheses and artificial hips, but with printing technology the possibilities are becoming endless. Thirty years ago company founder Jempi Wilssens, an electrotechnician by trade and keen runner himself, developed the first footscan: a pressure plate with thousands of sensors that gauge the pressure on the feet hundreds of times per second during running. Runners Lab Services offers its customers advice on running shoes at its three stores in Flanders, where they walk barefoot on a ramp to process a foot scan registered on a computer screen. Now, with their 3D printing technology, the retailer hopes to take the process one step further, so to speak.

“We can basically manufacture shoes from nothing. We have gained the know-how after years in the business. But at this stage we cannot do it in a profitable way. 3D printing is however widening our perspectives. If we could manage a retail price of 200 to 220 euros, it would be commercially viable.” But the challenges are enormous. “Printing on hard materials is not a problem, but the typically tempering materials used for shoes are another kettle of fish.” Wilssens swears by innovation, saying: “We estimate that we could employ five to ten additional staff at a microfactory.” Runners Services Lab quintupled its turnover to 5 milion euros since 2005 and survived the crisis unscathed as customers don’t seem to have a problem paying up to 150 euros for a pair of running shoes. And in the meantime running is becoming increasingly popular, with one million Flemings actively exercising the sport. Runners Service Lab plan to open their fourth store in Paal-Beringen next year and are also scouting for a perfect location in Brussels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.