Originally published in Compass magazine
While it’s axiomatic that no two feet are alike or average, most footwear is produced to standardized sizes and based on average fit. At the Innovation Lab of ECCO, however, we are close to achieving a strategy for true mass-customization.
Highly customized shoe-fitting once required the services of a podiatrist or an expert shoemaker, a hefty amount of money and a lengthy wait.
But our combination of advanced technologies – 3D scanning, sensor-based gait analysis, 3D models, an ECCO-proprietary algorithm for automatically adjusting those models to each customer’s personalized data, 3D-printing silicone in a unique process developed by ECCO, and a cloud-based product innovation platform to drive the entire process – allows us to produce, in just one hour, a bespoke-fitting shoe in a seamless experience.
A SYMPHONY OF TECH
The value created by this technological symphony is impressive. This is not a one-size-fits-all insole like those sold in pharmacies, but a fully bespoke interior for each shoe. We not only customize the fit; we adjust for each wearer’s unique movements and for how the shoe will be used, whether for walking, running, standing for long periods, routine daily wear or, in the future, for the specialized demands of a specific discipline.
With 55 years in the business, ECCO has significant experience making footwear. Still, we faced a number of hurdles in creating this remarkable experience.
“THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF INDUSTRY RENAISSANCE: APPLYING KNOWLEDGE AND KNOW-HOW TO OFFER CONSUMERS A NEVER-BEFORE-IMAGINED EXPERIENCE AND, IN THE PROCESS, REINVENT OR CREATE ENTIRELY NEW INDUSTRIES.”
ECCO Innovation Lab
Our engineers realized that optimizing the shoes’ performance would require not only three-dimensional models of both feet, but extensive data on the person’s gait and stride as well. ECCO implemented two innovative technologies to capture these attributes: a software to interpret foot scans, and proprietary, wearable sensors that collect data on the customer’s individual way of standing, walking and running, including loads and velocity. ECCO’s proprietary algorithm then analyzes thousands of data points to adjust a standard 3D midsole design to the wearer’s biomechanical data. Hence the system’s name: Quant-U, or Quantified You.
Writing an algorithm to analyze the data was the toughest part. That formula performs the necessary calculations to adjust the 3D model to an individual’s unique specifications in a matter of seconds.
Next, we had to find the right material for the midsoles. We wanted a material to improve step-in comfort, durability and performance, but it had to be 3D printable. We eventually found it: an advanced 3D-printable silicone produced by Dow Chemical. We currently have several 3D printers in our Amsterdam lab and, during select events, in our W-21 concept store that is our flagship for the Quant-U service. The project, at this stage, is still experimental and based on a single shoe style. But with two printers – one for each midsole – we can produce a customized pair of midsoles in about an hour.
Once your data is collected, we can “tune” it to different uses or different styles of shoe. Paramount for us is the user preference, such as a softer or firmer feeling, type of activity and basic orthotics. In the future, once your data is on file, we hope that getting your next pair of shoes will be as easy as calling the store or ordering online. Eventually, we envision offering this service in other fields such as outdoor uses, where we could compensate for additional gear weight or specific performance needs.
A FOOTWEAR RENAISSANCE
In the shoe business, as in many others, the customer experience extends far beyond the product itself. In our case, the experimental Quant-U customization service transforms an already great shoe into an augmented wearing experience, both in terms of comfort and performance.
Quant-U isn’t just a new experience for a very select group of ECCO’s customers. It is potentially an entirely new business model. We now have the tools to disrupt or provide services to other businesses in the medical and orthopedic fields, the athletic footwear market, or in digital domains that can make use of our data through machine learning processes to widely comprehend human motion and help us to create even better products.
This is the essence of Industry Renaissance: applying knowledge and know-how to offer consumers a never-before-imagined experience and, in the process, reinvent or create entirely new industries. With Quant-U, we’re no longer offering just great-looking shoes. We’re delivering great-looking shoes with personalized comfort, performance and profound personal insights that could be invaluable for the wearer’s well-being, all at an affordable price. ◆
Patrizio Carlucci has been Head of the ECCO Innovation Lab since 2014, following 11 years as owner of an industrial design irm and four years as Industrial Design Manager for Advanced Products at adidas. He describes himself as “terribly attracted to seemingly impossible challenges.”
To learn more about Quant-U, please visit: go.3ds.com/GJC