3D printed auxetic shoes by Wertel Oberfell constantly adapt to the shape of the foot

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Wertel Oberfell is a product design company founded in Germany in 2007, with offices in Berlin and Munich, which recently launched a truly unprecedented shoe model. It is a boot with a classic shape, with the difference that it is made from a material printed in 3D with a pattern, developed by the firm itself, which allows the shoe to adapt to the foot ergonomics throughout the day.

The adaptability of the shoe designed by Wertel Oberfell is an intrinsic consequence of the auxetic properties of the structures developed by the firm. Indeed, auxetic materials have a unique characteristic, namely that they have a negative Poisson’s ratio. In other words, these materials, if subjected to tensile stress, open like an umbrella, expanding in a direction transverse to that of the applied force. And vice versa: when subjected to compression, they “close”, causing the material itself to constrict. The main uses of these structures to date include body armor, packaging, impact protection, sponges and clothing, but the potential yet unexplored applications are limitless.

Company founders Jan Wertel and Gernot Oberfell told us about the start of their research in an interview: “We have been working with 3D printing for almost two decades now, initially for model making, but in the mid-2000s we started to use this new tool in a more experimental way, combining it with the new possibilities that offered parametric CAD modeling. Our first project with auxetic structures was a white cane for the visually impaired, Sense Five. Here, an auxetic pattern was used as a feedback element that alerts the user to obstacles by changing its surface. started in early 2022, after digging deeper and researching other uses for these amazing structures, we had a few ideas on how to use it, ranging from furniture to medical products, but ultimately decided on it. use for a shoe.

Why did you decide to start with one shoe, of all?
“The shoe (or boot) was the best subject to show the aesthetic and functional side of auxetic structures. We have a need for comfort which works well with auxetics as they can deform at a very localized level and thus adapt to each foot. For us, it also looks great, especially in motion as it expands and contracts, so we wanted to bring that element to the fore. In our research, we found a lot of performance-oriented sneakers, but not so many everyday shoes. So it made more sense for us to design something that would appeal to a wider audience. For us, sometimes it’s more interesting to infiltrate the workbench with the new and the unknown.

How about your project in terms of environmental sustainability?

“At the moment the design is not necessarily ecologically sustainable, because the filament we used is not compostable, and since we glued the elements it is difficult to repair the upper part. But this is not also just a prototype. At first we weren’t obsessed with 3D printing and tried other methods and materials (like vegan leather cut with a cutting plotter), which might still be relevant later on, but we finally opted for the 3D printer with a flexible filament, we recycled used soles for the models, this could be another interesting idea, to reuse the soles and adapt the upper part to them. , we made the print very efficient by printing it flat and then forming it, it’s a unique material so you can easily recycle it, and in theory you could argue that the production method would allow localized production, which can help local artisans and minimize transport (although you may still need to transport the materials first).

In order to create a working prototype of their auxetic shoe, the designers first had to learn the cobbler’s trade, which allowed them to develop the paper patterns that lead from the 2D surface of the fabric to the 3D shape of the shoe. finished. This transition from two to three dimensions – according to Oberfell and Wertel – was one of the most interesting parts of the whole research project, and one that will most likely see further development.

The last question concerns the commercial launch potential of the product and the future developments of the project. Gernot and Jan’s response is relaxed, inspired and down-to-earth: “Since this is what we call a ‘Lab’ project, meaning it’s self-initiated and non-profit, we’ll see when we take the next steps. At the moment, it’s more like a statement to inspire people and maybe start a conversation.

IPC

Project: Auxetic Wear by WertelOberfell
Designers: Jan Wertel, Gernot Oberfell
Project Assistant: Rebecca Meixner

All images courtesy of WertelOberfell

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