Is Robotics used in Footwear Manufacturing ?

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Shoe making requires a number of processes and stages. Therefore some automation is necessary. But why does the footwear Industry need Robotics ?
asked Jul 25, 2018 by Thomos J
edited Jul 27, 2018

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Shoe making is a skilled job and quite labour intensive. It also needs a lot of professional expertise and vast experience. A shoe has to go through many processes and production stages before it is finally packed for sale.People who enter a footwear factory for the first time are amazed to see how labuor intensive shoe-making is. Even after decades of advancements in automation, making a single pair of shoes requires lots of skill and working hands.

Like any industrial product, there are four primary reasons for automating footwear production:

1. Speed:

Machines can perform repetitive tasks much faster than a human hand, and sometimes also reduce the number of processes.

2. Consistency or accuracy

Shoe making require accuracy and process co-orditation at various stages of production.For example Stitching of uppers require a high degree of hand-eye coordination and are prone to errors. While stitching is still done byhuman workers operating sewing machines, efforts are being made to introduce automation to the process through innovations such as sew-bots.

Automation has allowed other processes like Cutting of materials, Bottoming, compound mixing (rubber/foam), component molding, and attaching the sole with the upper to deliver consistent results.This all helps in making of quality shoes.

3. Cost savings

Automation has a cost benefit. It provides Increased speed and accuracy allows higher productivity through fewer human operators. In many places skilled labour is very expensive and not easily available. Automation helps to meet the requirements.When lasting a shoe upper manually, one would need a pair of pliers to pull the leather upper over the sides. This is done at multiple points over the shoe’s periphery while applying considerable force.When this is done hundred of times a day there’s a high risk of  injuries to the workers And  inconsistencies in quality also becomes inevitable.

In the making of dress and casual shoes, a hard cellulose board is mounted on the last which is then layered with glue. Then the upper edges have to be pulled and stuck on the board before the sole is attached to it. This process is called ‘lasting’ and extremely difficult to be performed manually on an industrial scale.

4. Reduction of hazards at workplace 

 Quality footwear are difficult to produce while maintaining a consistent quality and it is also hazardous sometimes. For examples cutting of upper components manually requires sharp knives. This dangerous process is now semi-automated through hydraulic cutting presses.The making of midsoles and outsoles involves the risk of coming in contact with heated materials.  Many other processes needed automation – like the roughing of uppers,Skiving, Cutting materials or the trimming of rubber outsoles.

The lasting of shoe uppers was another problem. Running shoes are Strobel lasted, with the edges of the upper stitched to the lasting fabric. Other types of leather shoes have a different process. Each shoe is based on a Last which is foot-shaped mold and gives shoe upper its unique shape. 

So the footwear industry developed machines to automate the lasting process. Now shoes are lasted using asophisticated machine which not only pulls the leather over the edges but also glues it over the lasting board.
Introducing automation and robotics in the sole making and lasting process made a lot of sense. Not only did automation make the sole molding safer, but it also increased productivity. Many shoes factories are using Robotics in their production process.  Bata  and Desma use robots engaged in the production of board lasted and direct-soled footwear.Speedfactory is one example of automation and robotics in the footwear industry. There are a couple of new processes seen in the Speedfactory. it is an incremental evolution over what the industry has achieved so far.Adidas has been using robotics in footwear manufacturing for a very long time. Adidas’s Sheinfeld factory in Germany makes the Copa Mundial football and smaller batches of other custom products. There’s a healthy amount of automation involved in the making of the Copa Mundial football boot.

Europe has led most of the advancements in the feild of footwear manufacturing because of centuries of experience in shoe making. The handcrafted art gradually adapted itself to the industrial age. It also helped that countries like Germany have traditionally excelled in engineering.The shoe making Industry benefitted out of it.

The popular robotics company Kuka is also German and so is Desma  – a company focused exclusively on footwear manufacturing automation. Staubli robotics is Swiss. ABB is German, and so is Kurtz Ersa, the company which makes machines producing the Boost midsole.

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answered Jul 27, 2018 by Raj Toe Tech