3D bonding technology with polyurethane for the footwear sector
Spanish company Simplicity Works, working together with Huntsman Polyurethanes and Desma, has developed a shoe production method that – according to the company – offers game-changing possibilities to manufacturers looking to produce products closer to customers in Europe and North America. In collaboration, the three companies have created a highly automated, cost effective way of bonding together two-dimensional components, in a single shot, to form a seamless, three-dimensional upper.
Simplicity Works’ patent-protected 3D Bonding Technology is a world-first. Requiring no stitching and no lasting, the process connects all pieces of a shoe simultaneously, in just a few seconds. Faster and cheaper than conventional footwear manufacturing techniques, the new technology can be customised to suit requirements and is already proving popular with a number of big brand shoe companies, helping them bring local production overheads into line with lower labour cost countries.
The 3D Bonding Technology employs a 3D mould design created by Simplicity Works, a specifically designed, injectable material from Huntsman Polyurethanes, and a Desma injection-moulding machine. In the first step, individual upper components are placed into the mould, in slots separated by narrow channels – a bit like putting a puzzle together. A counter mould then presses each piece into place. The network of channels between the upper components is then injected, in a single shot, with the polyurethane developed by Huntsman. The end result is a shoe upper, held together by a flexible, polyurethane skeleton, which is both functional and stylish. To obtain a high quality polyurethane foam structure, which forms a durable skin with a high definition texture, Simplicity Works and Huntsman extensively researched new processes and materials. Available in different colours, the texture of the bonded polyurethanes lines (or ribways) can be varied meaning designers can select glossy or matt options combined with multiple other, textile-like surface finishes.
Suitable for creating all kinds of shoes and compatible with different synthetic and natural materials, the 3D Bonding Technology can make shoe production outside of low labour cost countries far more cost competitive, said the companies. With no seams to stitch, the overall production process is less labour intensive – reducing overheads. Material costs are also lower as there are no overlapping areas and much less waste. From a consumer perspective there are additional benefits. With no knitting or stitching lines, and no doubling-up of material, shoes have less friction and pressure points, and behave more like a pair of socks. Shoes are also more waterproof as there are no needle holes or permeable seam lines.
The launch of Simplicity Works’ 3D Bonding process culminates six years of work for the three partners. Adrian Hernandez, CEO of Simplicity Works and inventor of 3D Bonding Technology, said: “I’ve worked in the footwear industry for 25 years, in different countries and continents, so I am very familiar with the complexities involved in conventional shoe production. Six years ago, I realised there was a way to simplify footwear manufacturing. Keen to redress the geographical balance in the footwear industry in terms of labour costs, I came up with a radical new process that can make shoe production in North America and Europe more cost effective, while also increasing comfort for consumers. With my concept patent-protected, I began looking for partners to make my vision a reality; which led me to Desma and Huntsman.”
Continuing he said: “Working closely together over the last six years, our three teams have pooled their knowledge and expertise to create a process with the potential to shake up the shoe sector. The timing could not be better. Currently, an estimated 80 % of European footwear imports come from low cost labour countries. Faced with rising costs in these territories, many footwear companies are looking to move production back to Europe and North America. Our 3D Bonding Technology enables them to do just that, creating shoes that are more economical than those created in Asia – and that’s before factoring in transportation cost savings.”
Johan van Dyck, Global OEM Business Development Manager at Huntsman Polyurethanes, said: “The brief from Simplicity Works was demanding – but we like a challenge! They wanted us to develop a reactive, injectable polyurethane system, which combined excellent adhesion properties with extreme product flow-ability. The material also had to deliver comfort and cushioning, alongside superb finishing aesthetics. Using our many years of soling experience, we set about developing a suitable technology. It was a long process, with various refinements needed along the way, but we now have a revolutionary platform for either one or two-shot bonding. Our work on this project has enabled us to extend our long-standing relationship with Desma and forge a new alliance with Simplicity Works – an entrepreneurial team committed to changing the future of footwear manufacturing.”
Christian Decker, CEO at Desma, said: “We are a technology leader in the global footwear industry and have been providing manufacturers with advanced machinery and moulds for more than 70 years. The principles of clever, innovative, sustainable, automated footwear production, sit at the heart of our business, making us a natural partner for Simplicity Works. We are delighted to be involved in this project, working with Simplicity Works and the team at Huntsman Polyurethanes, to give footwear producers a means of making highly sophisticated footwear, in high labour cost countries, in a more economic way.”
Simplicity Works’ 3D Bonding Technology is flexible – meaning footwear manufacturers can choose to use it as the main joining technique or combine it with traditional stitching methods for functional or decorative purposes. Simplicity Works holds the patent rights for its technology and engineers designs for customers using CAD software. Once a product has been designed, Simplicity Works develops all the tooling and moulds needed for footwear production. This know-how is then transferred to manufacturers complete with machinery and polyurethane specifications determined in cooperation with Huntsman and Desma. With the 3D Bonding Technology able to significantly reduce production costs, a proportion of this saving is collected as royalties by Simplicity Works – with Desma providing all necessary machinery and automation systems, and Huntsman delivering the polyurethane to work alongside the 3D Bonding Technology.
According to Simplicity Works, its 3D Bonding Technology has the potential to add value outside of the footwear industry and the company is exploring opportunities to use this universal manufacturing method to make apparel, accessories and even furniture.