New technologies in pedorthics: The will grow but will not take over completely

3D-printing and milling of orthopedic device are expected to grow in the near future (Fig.: C. Maurer Fachmedien)

New technologies have a firm place in pedorthics today. Experts expect their share in the production of individual aids for the foot to increase even further in the future. This is shown by a survey among members of the International Association of Orthopaedic Footwear Technicians (IVO).

It has been over 30 years since the first milling machines for insoles were introduced to the industry. So it is not surprising that milling technology is now well known in all countries. Scanners, whether 2D or 3D, for foot measurement as well as CAD programs for computer-aided manufacturing are now also used in all countries. However, this does not mean that the new technologies are already being used everywhere. Estimates of how much they already account for compared to traditional handcrafted manufacturing vary. While some say that the new technologies already predominate, others estimate that the ratio is balanced or that the new technologies have so far only accounted for a smaller share of production. Still others confess that they are currently still working entirely in the traditional artisanal way, but that investments in new technologies are being examined over the next few years. Since this was not a representative survey, it is not possible to answer the question of the actual prevalence of new technologies in the individual countries.

However, the picture of opinion is quite clear when it comes to future developments. While some believe that some applications, such as milling lasts for orthopedic shoes, will tend to stabilize at current levels, the majority believe that the application of new technologies will continue to grow. 3D printing, in particular, is expected to play a much larger role in the manufacture of assistive devices in the coming years, especially in the provision of orthotics.

New technologies are not expected to completely displace traditional craftsmanship. “There will always be a need for traditional hand made orthotics for unique cases”, one participant sasy, “and of course, the understanding of how to manufacture an orthotic based on the knowledge gained from a complete biomechanical assessment but the use of technology to aid in efficiency will grow in the future. New training on how to make the cast corrections digitally will need to be learned”.

And although it is necessary to train the next generation in the use of new technologies, the basic training in craftsmanship should not be forgotten, because this is the only way to learn how to design the right form of an aid. “A lot of our work is a feel and touch”, another participant put it, “and from my experience I often have to adjust and modify lasts made with modern methods. I can imagine that in future training in computerised designing will be part of the training”.

Read more about the survey and how new technologies are changing the industry in the upcoming issue of foot&shoe.