Completely digitized process with almost no waste

Made-to-measure TPU products from Covestro

At the K 2019 plastics trade fair from 16 to 23 October in Düsseldorf, Germany, Covestro will be showing the prototype of a new application of Covestro materials for additive manufacturing at its Stand A 75 in Hall 6: 3D-printed orthopaedic insoles for shoes. They are efficiently produced using an automated and completely digitized process that generates almost no waste. The part to be produced is in the form of a 3D file that can be sent anywhere in the world. On site, a printer produces the physical product from it - regardless of whether only a single individualized sole or millions of soles are to be produced.

"Thermoplastic polyurethane is the material of choice for this application due to its favorable range of properties," says Patrick Rosso, Global Head of Additive Manufacturing at Covestro. "In particular, our TPU products cover a wide range of hardnesses. The hardness can also be adjusted by changing the pressure structure. This gives manufacturers the ability to print shoe insoles that are completely custom-made - with hard or soft contact areas".

High functionality and durability
Covestro is currently testing different sole designs with a partner to find out which are the easiest to print and the most durable. Initial tests were promising, both in terms of functionality and durability. Orthopaedic insoles are often made by hand and take a long time to manufacture.

In addition, conventional insoles are manufactured by moulding or machining rigid foam blocks. The use of additive manufacturing offers the manufacturer a more sustainable approach and could help to give many more people access to orthopaedic insoles.

Successful last production using 3D printing
As early as May 2018, Covestro presented the model of an efficient complete solution for the manufacture of orthopaedic shoe lasts at the OT World orthopaedics trade fair in Leipzig. Thanks to 3D printing technology, the time required for production has been reduced from several weeks to just a few days. At the same time, patient visits to the shoe manufacturer can be reduced to a minimum. After the trade fair, customers expressed the idea of also printing the insoles instead of manufacturing them by hand as before. The idea and the favorable material properties of TPU were the reason for the current project.

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