This Somerville startup wants to change the way shoes are made

April 22, 2018

Inventors and entrepreneurs from Massachusetts revolutionized shoe production — over and over again in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. They developed the tools and systems that transformed it from a labor-intensive craft to an industry that cranked out millions of shoes a year in vast factories.

A small Somerville company, Voxel8, hopes to revolutionize shoe production again, by selling a new kind of 3-D printer to manufacturers that will help them offer almost infinite customization, and avoid making too many extra shoes that don’t get sold.

This isn’t the first time a 3-D printing company has pitched its technology to the shoe biz: companies like Boston-based New Balance and Reebok have been experimenting with the technology in small, limited-run ways. Adidas this year started making larger quantities of a sole for a new shoe using 3-D printing technology from Carbon 3D, a Silicon Valley startup. (The shoes, dubbed Futurecraft 4D, sell for $300.)

Broadly speaking, 3-D printers build durable objects from digital designs, using a range of materials from powders to polymers to metals. The one that Voxel8 has built can use several different kinds of materials at once, which would let it apply different colors and consistencies of materials — some stretchy, others firm — onto fabric.

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