Apr 6, 2011

Z Corporation 3D Printing Helps Clarks Move New Shoe Styles to Market More Quickly and Affordably

BURLINGTON, Mass., USA – Clarks, a world leader in footwear for men, women and children, has transformed its development process to release better, more stylish shoes earlier in the fashion life cycle. Headquartered in the UK, the global company has removed weeks – and in some cases, months – from the design process by digitizing prototyping with help from Z Corporation 3D printing technology.

Traditionally, shoemakers use paper sketches, factory-manufactured samples and design reviews to move concepts toward production. Multiple cycles are the norm. 3D printing of new digital designs enables Clarks’ digital development team to create detailed, colorful physical shoe models in hours instead of the two weeks it used to take for manufactured samples to return, dramatically reducing time and cost.

“Rather than wait two or three weeks for a costly prototype to arrive, we now have a full, multicolour prototype in our hands in a day,” said Ross Authers, Clarks’ digital development manager. “We save a lot of time and money both in production and shipping. This more efficient process significantly enhances the quality of the final shoe, which arrives in the store much earlier in the style cycle.”

With Z Corporation’s ZPrinter®, Clarks can produce physical models from 3D computer-aided design data nearly as easily as a businessperson can print a letter from a PDF file. These models become a crucial part of the design review, providing the same information as manufactured samples – and much more than an on-screen drawing.

“When you move a model on screen, you’re doing it in an artificial way from a single, fixed point of reference,” said Authers. “You miss the subtle visual changes that occur as real light glances off different parts of the model at different angles, and as your hand moves naturally. When you’re holding a shoe model in your hand, your eyes are constantly moving, and the shoe seems to almost change shape as you turn it. This matters because, as you’ll notice, there’s not a single straight line on a shoe. You need to see it in three full dimensions.”

Clarks prints one or two physical 3D models per day, not including wildly popular miniature shoe models for marketing and sales. And while it would normally take Clarks months to go from concept to approved product, its new automation strategy, involving digital shoe design and Z Corporation 3D printing, can shrink that cycle time to weeks – ideal when the pressure is truly on. Once a product is approved, it can be re-printed in other locations around the world, adding further time and cost savings.

“3D printing is the technology that brings all of our development advances together, helping us evolve from the best shoemakers in the world into the best innovators in the world,” said Authers. “We can respond to the market faster than ever, and faster than our competitors, allowing us time to experiment with designs we would not normally achieve. These advantages are helping us expand our business into new market segments and territories. We’re on the verge of a revolution of efficiency and approaching the reality of ‘fully engineered’ shoes. Although we have 185 years in a 9,000-year-old industry, it feels like a new dawn.”