For nearly a year and a half, Kegan Schouwenburg ran the enormous Shapeways factory in Queens, New York. Her colleagues joked about her running a factory in heels, which got her thinking: Surrounded by all of these high tech 3D printers, how was it that her shoes were still so low tech that her feet hurt all the time?
“That whole idea seemed really real broken to me,” Schouwenburg said. “I looked around and said, ’3D printing is the technology that can solve this.’”
Enter Sols, a custom orthotics company Schouwenburg co-founded last year to pair 3D scanning and printing with the masses’ feet. The startup closed a $1.75 million seed financing round last week, led by Lux Capital.
It’s already possible to order custom shoe inserts molded exactly for your foot, but 3D scanning and printing have the potential to make it easier to order them and reduce costs. When Sols makes its inserts available to consumers sometime in the next year, all they will need to do to place an order is download an app and use their mobile device’s camera to scan their feet. Sols will use the scan to print a pair of custom orthotics and ship them to the buyer. Right now, that process takes a few more steps as the buyer has to order a fitting kit — generally a soft pad that they press their foot into to leave an imprint — and then send it back to the company.
Sols will begin selling orthotics this year through medical professionals who can fit patients in-person. The company has already secured a network of physicians in New York to begin testing the service.
Schouwenburg said she isn’t yet sure if the inserts will be printed in a large, central location in the style of Shapeways. The company could instead rely on decentralized factories or even small centers where people are fitted on-site. It could also integrate into existing retail; when you buy shoes at a department store, you could be fitted for Sols on the spot.
She noted that the orthotics will be made from a custom antimicrobial nylon material Sols is developing with a partner. Instead of a combination of hard and soft materials, Sols will take advantage of one of 3D printing’s big benefits: You can modify the composition of a material as it is printed, resulting in very interesting combinations of softness and rigidity. There’s no extra production cost if an orthotic is more or less complex.
Sols is also working on new ways to finish 3D printed products, including polishing and dying. Eventually, Schouwenburg said her team might pursue items beyond inserts.
“We’re focused on looking at how the body moves, evolves, and creating products that work with that,” Schouwenburg said.