As one of the few women to hold a position as Director of Industrial Engineering and Operations in the manufacturing world, Kegan [Fisher] Schouwenburg understands how to make things. But it’s her degree in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute that brings in her understanding of style. Merging these two sides of the equation, Ms. Schouwenburg left her position at Shapways where she spent 18 months building the Factory of the Future in New York to co-found Sols. The new venture makes “the perfect insole” that is not only functional, but stylish to boot.
This week Sols secured $1.75 million in seed financing, led by Lux Capital. Incidentally, Lux Capital is an investor in Shapeways, and is a big advocate of new 3D Printing business models. Moderating a panel at Inside 3D Printing in New York in 2013, Jack Schildhorn, Vice President and Director of Operations at LUX Capital, however stated “Cool technology alone does not make a business”.
Perhaps not but using new 3D Printing technology to create cool products from commodities could be a big win. Take Starbucks. I am old enough to remember when coffee was just 25 cents and came in one flavor – coffee. Starbucks created a coffee lifestyle from a commodity through higher, consistent quality and very cool custom choices. The market exploded, even with much higher prices.
Yes, there are custom orthotics already on the market, but in general they come with no elements of style. Any woman who wants to wear her othotics in high-heeled sandals will attest to the challenges of keeping them on and looking like a grandmother to boot. Ms. Schouwenburg notes that Sols orthotics can be ordered in a variety of colors and it surely won’t be long before there are other design choices.
On a practical note, my experience with orthotics was having to use a fitting kit, where I pressed my feet into a material that created a mold. It then had to be sent back to the manufacturer. Digital Fabrication of course skips this step. According to the Sols home page, “an advanced framework of image processing” and “real-time visualization” – meaning scanning the foot with a mobile device app – will create the custom design. From there a custom insole will be 3D Printed. So the entire process will take less time.
With more sophisticated 3D Printers such as the new production models introduced by 3D Systems at EuroMold, it’s now possible to modify materials in a single print which means there is just one step in combining soft and rigid materials with no need for assembly or adhesives. This is potentially a cost savings in manufacturing time and materials. Sols is also working with a partner to develop a proprietary antimicrobial nylon material which would be unique to the market.
Ms. Schouwenburg has not yet determined whether Sols will use the centralized manufacturing system of a Shapeways, or a distributed manufacturing system with smaller 3D Printers in strategic locations. Distributed manufacturing is one of the hallmarks of 3D Printing so it will be interesting to see which path the company takes.