Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 10 (October 2001)

If the Shoe Fits

Custom shoes put technology through its paces

By Katherine Tyrka

Mass production was a dream come true for both manufacturers and consumers, as an abundance of lower priced goods flooded the marketplace. Yet one particular by-product of this industrial revolution be came quite constraining for buyers-standard-size clothing. Today, digital scanning and 3D modeling technologies are bringing the custom fit back into vogue, and one company taking advantage of this trend is French shoemaker J.M. Weston.

Weston is considered an international standard-setter for quality shoes. The company's oxfords and slip-ons, made from fine leather, cost from $375 to $800 on average, and are available in sizes and half-sizes with a five-width range. Although the 130-year-old company moved to a modern factory in 1990, it still employs traditional shoemakers who finish each shoe by hand. But the ultimate luxury when it comes to a pair of shoes is a perfect fit. So the company has developed Visionique, a foot-scanning system that marries high technology with handmade craftsmanship to add accuracy and speed to the creation of a custom-fitted, hand-finished shoe.

Weston's scanner contains four synchronized Kreon Laser Sensors from Kréon Industries (Limoges, France) that can precisely measure a person's foot in 18 seconds. Each sensor has two CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras that produce data points of the foot. The system captures these points using triangulation-with two sensors scanning the foot from above and two from below-resulting in a 3D point cloud. Incorporated into the technology is software customized by Weston that automatically produces the point-cloud data in real time, within a precision of 0.3mm. Because the Kréon technology was developed for reverse engineering, primarily within the automotive industry, Weston needed to create the software with specific functions such as the automatic calculation of certain foot measurements.
Shoemaker J.M. Weston offers customers a perfect fit by digitally scanning a person's foot and then extracting key measurements from the 3D data using its proprietary software.

Once the scanning process is completed, each customer's foot measurements are stored in an Oracle database, eliminating the need for repeated scanning when the customer orders a new pair of custom-fit shoes.

One of the challenges to scanning a foot is capturing its position within a shoe, including the inclination of the heel. To ac complish this, Weston developed a glass foot-support plate for its scanning system that is designed so the laser can pass through without obstruction. The foot is positioned on the curved glass plate, which corresponds to the average heel height of a Weston shoe. When the scan is completed, a Weston shoe specialist then manually measures the compressed foot (full weight bearing), and verifies the flexibility and toe deformation of the customer's feet.

The customized shoes, like the rest of Weston's line, are manufactured at the company's production facility in Limoges.

Weston still manually modifies a standard "shoe last"-the form used for the inside of the shoe-by adding layers of cork or leather to make it conform to the order specifications. However, the last-maker can refer to the 3D model of the client's foot, using the visual information to better conform to the morphology (a high or low arch, for instance) and to obtain further measurements if needed.

Using the Kréon machine, the cobbler digitizes the shoe last before comparing its dimensions with the 3D foot model within the Weston software. "The ability to compare highly accurate 3D models of both the foot and the shoe last produces a truly custom-fitted shoe while maintaining the artisan aspect of producing the last," says Jacque Valade, director of manufacturing.

Finally, the dimensions are entered into a 2D patterning program, although the company is hoping to automate this process in the future by using a CAD program that can produce the 2D patterning from the shoe-last data in the Weston software application. Eight weeks after having their feet scanned at the Paris boutique, customers receive a pair of customized Weston shoes, for which they pay an average of $1200.

Although the process is not as convenient as purchasing a pair of Hush Puppies from a local department store, customers believe the comfort and fit are worth the wait and the price."

Key Tool: Kréon Laser Sensor, Kréon Industries ( infoNOW 76

Katherine Tyrka is a freelancer writer based in Paris. She can be reached at