Just like Back to the Future: A design company has created a 3D shoe that adapts to the wearer's foot

Now we can experience a Back to the Future boot!
Nergis Firtina
Auxetic shoe
The shoe in questionN/A

Have you ever desired to possess shoes like in the Back to Future movie? The shoes that tie the laces to fit the feet...

Well, it may not be exactly the same thing, but German company WertelOberfell seems to have managed to create 3D-printed shoes that adapt to your feet.

Using a desktop FDM 3D printer and TPU, the designed shoes are called Auxetic Wear. These shoes rely on an auxetic structure, which allows the shoe to adapt to the wearer's foot. The shoes expand or compress according to the stress exerted.

The designers, Gernot Oberfell and Jan Wertel, set out to design 3D-printed shoes to find the perfect pair and ensure maximum comfort. After identifying and testing several materials, they finally turned to additive manufacturing, which offered them more flexibility.

Just like Back to the Future: A design company has created a 3D shoe that adapts to the wearer's foot
The 3D-printed shoe in question

Research and experiments

The WertelOberfell designers started with an auxetic structure - a structure made with auxetic materials, which have a negative Poisson's ratio, which means that they thicken when stretched, unlike other materials that tend to become thinner.

They also imagined a basic structure similar to that of a skeleton that serves to give the final shape of the shoe. After several tests, they reached a basic shape.

On the company's website, Auxetic Wear explains the shoe’s design, “The individual pieces are made with a resistant TPU (shore 98A), the auxetic structure is printed, including its reinforcement. They are glued together and then sewn onto the existing sole, combining traditional craftsmanship with modern technology. The final design has been refined through many iterations.”

The final version of the shoes is thus composed of several two-dimensional 3D-printed shapes that are sewn onto a traditionally designed sole.

Just like Back to the Future: A design company has created a 3D shoe that adapts to the wearer's foot
Materials used for the shoes

Ladies and gentlemen: WertelOberfell

Based in Berlin and Munich, Germany, WertelOberfell was founded in 2007 by Gernot Oberfell and Jan Wertel. Both designers studied Industrial Design in Stuttgart at the State Academy of Arts, a school that is based on the principles of the Ulmer Schule and the Bauhaus.

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Their work ranges from furniture, lighting, and industrial products to experimental research pieces for companies such as Braun, Neff, Philips, Panasonic, Sony, Yamagiwa, Bulthaup, MGX by Materialise, Iker, Nowystyl, DuPont Corian, and others.

As they explain on their website, Oberfell and Wertel share a strong interest in new technologies and manufacturing processes, and at an early stage in their careers, they discovered the possibilities of computer-aided design.

Many of WertelOberfell's works have been exhibited in important art centers such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Understanding Auxetic Textile

Auxetic materials are materials that have a negative or effectively negative Poisson's ratio. Unlike many traditional materials, textile products made from this material have the property of expanding perpendicular to the axis applied by the tensile load.

Materials are also auxetic if a compressive load applied along the axis results in a reduction in the dimension of the material along an axis perpendicular to the axis along which the compressive load is applied.

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