Leather Craftsman Finds New Tool in
Digital Foot Scanner Adds to High Tech
by Jeanette Hye
Port Townsend, Washington- Three-dimensional computer aided design
technology has turned a leather craftsman into a high-tech entrepreneur.
Inspired by the increasing sophistication
of 3D CAD systems and driven by a desire to build a business
on an entirely new manufacturing paradigm, Alan Zerobnick recently
launched a more technologically advanced approach to making an
The 51-year-old Zerobnick, who
has been selling shoes since he was 14 years old, recently began
creating custom-made shoes from measurements gathered using a
retail kiosk installed in a Seattle foot doctor's office.
Using a foot scanner equipped
with digital cameras, the kiosk allows customers to scan their
feet and choose the style of footwear they want Zerobnick's company,
Digitoe, to produce.
The kiosk, designed and built
by Zerobnick, transmits via eMail the measurements and computerized
Zerobnick then uses his 3D software
to create a virtual "shoe last". A last is a model
of a persons foot upon which the shoe is built.
"Once I have the information,
I use the CAD system to go to a shelf in my electronic workshop
and grab pieces of 'electronic wood' to build the last,"
He points out that creating a
3D last on the computer screen is not a simply a matter of entering
the information and waiting for the computer to generate an appropriate
shape. The task still requires many of the same skills necessary
to hand craft a last, such as knowledge of the foot's anatomy
and a flair for design.
Using the CAD system to design
the initial last does allow mistakes to be easily corrected and
also creates an established pattern to work from, should another
last need to be made.
Once the last is designed it
is eMailed to a lasting center contracted by Digitoe. While a
physical last is being manufactured, Digitoe uses its CAD system
to be generated for the shoe leather.
Stepping Back In Time
Digitoe's method of using 3D
CAD to design goods prior to actual production is not that unusual.
Manufacturers now use 3D CAD to design everything from airplanes
to vacuum cleaners.
Digitoe's twist on the idea is
that it employs modern technology to allow the company to revert
back to a pre-industrial-era method of manufacturing goods. Zerobnick
likens the procedure to that used when each product was custom
made for its individual owner by a skilled craftsman.
Zerobnick, who's shoes cost between
$275 and $350 per pair, acknowledges that his vision for an anachronistic
business strategy isn't widely accepted as feasible in the footwear
His ideas, however, do not differ
drastically from those of higher-profile champions of mass customization.
"By creating customized
products, you eliminate so many costs," said Zerobnick,
whose total advertising budget is $350 a year to maintain a website
at www.Digitoe.com. "There are no trade shows, no salespeople,
no advanced production, no inventory, no returns, and no markdowns."
"And forget producing for
lines a year and trying to guess which color green is going to
sell when," added Zerobnick's partner, Jayne Woodward, whose
former career included an 11-year stint as a designer at Timberland.
Licensing Digitoe's technology
to larger manufacturers is also a possibility, but until now,
most of those who have visited Digitoe to discuss the idea have
left in search of their own method to provide mass customization
services, Zerobnick said.
The ability to provide a quality
product at a reasonable price could give small manufacturers
an advantage over manufacturing giants to rigid to make a change.
In addition, the Internet provides
an ideal forum for inexpensive advertising and allows regional
manufacturers to take orders from all over the world. Prior to
launching its scanning kiosk in Seattle, Digitoe had compiled
a list of 400 customers that had viewed the company's website
and contacted Digitoe for information on where they could order
a pair of shoes.