3D printed insoles for diabetes patients

In the past, insoles for patients with diabetes were hand-made by orthopedic shoemakers. In the future, these specialist shoemakers will be able to produce insoles more cost-effectively thanks to new software and the use of 3D printers. This approach means the mechanical properties of each insole can be assessed scientifically and more effectively.

It will soon be possible to digitalize the manufacture of insoles. LAUF, a German acronym for “laser-assisted construction of customized footwear”, refers to a project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes for Mechanics of Materials IWM and for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT are collaborating with industry partners on the process of digitalization. “Digital foot mapping is already common practice. As part of this project, we have now also completely digitalized the insole production process,” says IWM scientist Dr. Tobias Ziegler. “Using newly developed software, the orthopedic shoemaker can design an insole for an individual patient and can print out the result on a 3D printer.” This has a number of immediate advantages: On the one hand, the mechanical properties of each insole become readily apparent, which is something health insurance companies want. On the other, insoles can be produced at greatly reduced cost.

Once an insole has been printed, it goes back to Fraunhofer IWM, where it is tested to the point of failure using tensile, abrasion, and bending tests. The first insole prototypes have already been produced in this way.