Healthcare Technology Featured Article

March 15, 2016

Custom Insoles from iMcustom Show Another Value of 3D Printing

3D printers have been shown doing some absolutely amazing things, in the medical world and beyond. With a 3D printer, we've seen replacements made for hands, for lower jaws, for certain internal organs, and that's before the issue of models comes up. Now, iMcustom has brought out another use for the 3D printer: a custom insole printing system tailor-made to each individual foot.

Certainly, many of us have purchased slip-in insole support systems before; a simple cushioned mechanism that slides into a shoe and then provides support to the foot as it moves is generally how such are seen. Normally, such insoles are one-size-fits-all, at least as far as the shoe goes. Now, with iMcustom, users can get a foot scanned using a polymer gel scanner developed as part of a co-project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Following the scan, a 3D viewer link is created, which shows the key pressure points found in the user's foot, spotting potential issues of misalignment that can cause foot pain.

The resulting file is then sent to another department of the store, where a 3D printer can engage, and create a custom-fitted insole while the user watches. Once complete, the insole can be inserted into a shoe much like any other, but in this case, it's one that's specifically geared toward the individual customer.

The custom insoles will cost users $249 each once printed, though semi-custom versions exist that address more common foot problems for just $89. The company's CEO and founder, Glen Hinshaw commented “iMcustom has created a first-of-its-kind system that is quite frankly a game changer for our industry – a process that used to take weeks or sometimes months to produce custom fit insoles has now been reduced to potentially an hour or two, courtesy of our dynamic 3D scanner and 3D printing system.”

Such custom-fitted solutions can yield better support for the pelvis, for the spine, and for a number of health-related issues. While the costs are likely to scare some users off—especially given that many breeds of one-size-fits-all model run typically between $8 and $15 on Amazon—the idea of a custom-fitted system that will likely last longer and provide greater relief to users might well be worth the vastly higher price than the simple, off-the-rack model. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise to see users start turning to insurance companies about this, or at least seeing podiatrists prescribe such custom-fitted material outright. There's even an outside chance users might try the custom-printing route on personal 3D printers, if a way to generate the custom scan could be done.

This isn't the first time 3D printing has been used in healthcare issues, and it likely won't be the last. The end result will shake up foot care issues for some time to come, and generate a lot of new and exciting possibilities for a still-young technology.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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