Johan Steenwyk – pioneer of CAD

20 years ago we first presented Johan Steenwyk in our German journal "Orthopädieschuhtechnik". Steenwyk had emigrated from The Netherlands to Canada and become one of the pioneers of CAD within orthopedic shoe technology. He remained true to this technology which is today the center of his business.

The tradition of shoemaking dates back to the 18th century in the Steenwyk family. Johan Steenwyk himself learned the trade of an orthopedic shoemaker still in his native country, The Netherlands, before he set off for Canada.

After having gathered experience in a clinic workshop and in a company in Edmonton, he founded his own company in Red Deer, in Western Canada. He soon received orders for orthopedic custom-made shoes. What Steenwyk did not have yet were specialized staff that could help him make the shoes in his workshop. Thus he had to look for new technologies that could support him. He found a partner with Vorum Research from Vancouver, a company that looked for appliers of their last-CAD at that time, at the beginning of the 90s.

First steps with a positive balance

In 1993 Steenwyk could already report about his first positive experience with new technologies. On the occasion of the IVO-congress of 1993, the first Vorum 3D-scanner was introduced and without hesitation transferred from the congress directly into Steenwyk's workshop. Half a year later he already made shoes for eight other companies in North America. Using the scan and CAD technology, he was able to work for faraway places. For the manufacturing of a custom-made shoe, Steenwyk received a plaster mould of the foot, a blueprint, photos of the foot and further information on the patient and of course data on the upper, colour and build of the shoe from his client. He poured out the plaster, scanned the mould and worked on the upper at the CAD, which then was milled.

More orders than capacity

The company grew and at times Steenwyk employed 14 people that manufactured shoes for his company and for external clients. But his lack of skilled staff for the production of custom-made shoes was still there. The Pedorthic Association of Canada has managed in the last 20 years to establish "certified pedorthists" as a profession with a combination of university education and professional practice in a company. This profession is recognized by the state and also by insurance companies. "Pedorthists in Canada know a lot around the foot", Steenwyk confirms. But the production of custom-made shoes is not part of the education.

This means for him that processes like working on the lasts or the design of upper cuts depended on him in the end. "When I fell behind, the operation stopped". Also twenty years after the introduction of the CAD-technology, what he postulated already in 1994 is still valid: " You have to know how to make a last by hand, before you can make the last with this system." This work process could not be delegated. In addition he had to deal with organizational matters as the owner of a company and employer of 14 people. This way he did not have much time for his specialized work. This twofold burden was too much for him one day.

Outsourcing of production

So the next logical step was the outsourcing of the production. Today Steenwyk cooperates with a service provider from the Philippines headed by Dutch people. Steenwyk personally visited the company in order to be sure of high-class working standards and of good working conditions.

Work itself has not changed much for Johan Steenwyk, he now just has to define all information on the upper and the shoe more exactly. Once the data are in the Philippines, he cannot intervene in the production anymore, like he used to in his own workshop, in order to correct something. "This is the challenge: I have to put everything exactly on paper, so that somebody else can implement my ideas."

"It always depends on the plaster cast quality". Steenwyk describes the biggest obstacle on the way to a last that fits and is functional. If it is taken expertly, he can translate the mould quickly and easily in a last with the help of the scanner and the CAD. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes he receives plaster casts with a foot position that is not a good base for a last. In that case, his know-how and expertise are needed to design a fitting last from other available information such as the blueprint, the photos of the foot and the diagnosis. If Steenwyk is not completely sure of the outcome, he has a trial shoe made to be on the safe side. Once all data are collected, they are sent via Internet to the Philippines, where everything from the last until the bottom construction will be worked upon. Three or four weeks later he receives the finished shoes. He receives 15 to 20 pairs weekly, more than he used to be able to make in his workshop. All shoes are checked by him before they are sent on to his customers. Johan Steenwyk of course still supplies customers with shoes in his own company. But also the production of these shoes is outsourced. "We also have many difficult cases, but it works very well," Steenwyk says.

The Canadian market for custom-made shoes

Johan Steenwyk is not the only person in Canada that produces custom-made shoes. But there are not that many others around. Compared to Europe, the number of orthopedic custom-made shoes is small considering the number of inhabitants of Canada. On the one hand the reason for this may be that first the provision with ready-made shoes has to be maxed, before the insurance company will grant an orthopedic custom-made shoe to its customer. "The criteria for granting an orthopedic custom-made shoe are stricter than in Europe", Steenwyk says.

From his point of view another reason why so few custom-made shoes are prescribed and made is that the doctors and suppliers of aids and appliances so far have not had a lot of experience with indications and advantages of the treatment with custom-made shoes. In addition, many foot specialists are not practiced in the art of plaster casting for custom-made shoes and thus do not like to order custom-made shoes.

Johan Steenwyk feels that the actual need for custom-made shoes is a lot higher in Canada and that many people could be helped better with individual shoes. Therefore he wishes that more people deal with this resource and that there are more trainings offered, e.g. when exactly custom-made shoes are indicated and how a correct plaster cast is made.

by Wolfgang Best