A Peek into the Athena Sole

Here is what the inside of an Athena sole looks like, pictured in green instead of black. All those little honeycomb spring structures can only be made with 3D printing. Pretty neat, right?

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An electrifying week at OESH: blowing a fuse

So this happened at OESH this week:

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We blew a fuse. Well, actually, we didn’t blow a fuse. An exuberant vine on one of our power line poles blew a fuse. It was a fuse for one of the three transformers for our 480 volt line that went kapooey. That meant all of our 480 volt machinery was down and we couldn’t injection mold for two whole days. As frustrating as it was getting further behind on orders while we waited for Dominion Power to come and fix it, I wasn’t about to try to climb up the pole to try to fix it myself. Honestly. An electrician will tell you: 110 volts can certainly kill you. 240 volts will most definitely kill you. 480 volts will kill you a few times over.

At least our 3D printers marched on through the whole ordeal. They’re only 24 volts. And can be completely unplugged when changing their cute little fuses, which hardly ever seem to blow, anyways.

Make it in America

This is the first book that caught my eye as I randomly wandered a random section of our public library. Last time I did this, the first book that caught my eye was a book on deep fried insects.

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Now THIS one I can do. In fact, we’re already doing it!

Better than foam

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OESH Athena sandals with 3D printed cellular elastomeric soles

 

We’ve been using a specially developed cellular elastomeric material in all our OESH shoe soles for several years now. And now we’re 3D printing that material into our Athena sandals. The material is much more expensive than traditional foam used in shoes soles. Moreover, the process to make shoe soles with this material is much more complex. There was a research article in the journal “Nature” this week comparing the long-term mechanical response of a cellular elastomeric solid created with 3D printing to traditional foam. The upshot is that the 3D printed cellular solid performs better than foam. Of course we already knew that. But it’s nice to see independent peer-reviewed research on the subject.

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Women manufacturers rock!

The NAM's Manufacturing Institute's 2016 STEP Awards. Photo by David Bohrer.
2016 STEP Ahead Awardees. I’m towards the middle in a black blouse and red blazer. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Manufacturers.

 

It would seem that the “STEP Ahead” Award that I got last week, along with 129 other amazing women, would have something to do with making shoes. Well, it does, but not in the way that you think. STEP stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Production” and last week, we were each awarded the 2016 STEP Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute in Washington DC. Over a two day celebration we were wined, dined, congratulated and thanked for all the science, technology, engineering, and production awesomeness that we do on a daily basis. Congress people told us how essential we are to the U.S. economy, creating wealth and community and serving as role models for young women and girls to pursue STEM and manufacturing careers. Many of us mentor young women in one way or another. In fact, it was a former mentee of mine, Grace Lefebure who nominated me for the award. Grace was the only woman in her mechanical engineering capstone class with me at OESH a number of years ago. She is now a hotshot engineer making airplane parts for Boeing in Seattle, who won the STEP Ahead Award last year. Thank you Grace!

Washington, DC, USA - April 21, 2016: National Association of Manufacturers STEP Ahead Awards presentation reception at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Photo by Ian Wagreich
Me with the award. Yes, the award is a crystal shoe! Photo courtesy of the National Association of Manufacturers.

 

While I was the only honoree from the shoe industry, there were women from just about every other industry sector, all manufacturing one thing or another right here in the United States. We had much fun talking about injection molding and how to get grease off your clothes (you can’t, which is why you have to wear mostly black). We also talked a lot about coding and 3D printing. Everyone loved my hot pink 3D printed Athena Sandals!

Washington, DC, USA - April 20, 2016: National Association of Manufacturers STEP Ahead Reception at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. Photo by Ian Wagreich
I also won “Bingo” because I was the only one with a company that started with the letter “O.” Photo courtesy of the National Association of Manufacturers.

 

Before we parted, we each had to make a personal commitment as to how we would encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM and manufacturing careers. I promised that I will continue to host factory tours for students. The girls who come through the OESH factory are especially excited to see how we can make shoes using coding and 3D printing. There are very few shoe designers who are women and there are even fewer women who actually manufacture shoes. When girls see what we do here at OESH they can’t help but be inspired to roll up their sleeves and learn some code!

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The award back home, proudly displayed on top of the injection molding machine…until it’s time for our next run.

Women’s Rights

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So proud. That’s my Jayme protesting for women’s rights with fellow Oxonians at Yarl’s Wood Detention Center in England.

Autodesk’s “Line//Shape//Space” features Dr. Kerrigan and OESH

Autodesk–the world’s leader in 3D Design, Engineering, Architectural, and Entertainment software–today published this wonderful article by Matt Alderton about OESH. This feature appears in the “Success Stories” tab of their Line//Shape//Space online magazine, entitled How to Become a Product Designer

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OESH has had several excellent articles written about our unique successes, but today’s  might be the very best of all. Many thanks to Matt for his splendid writing and all of the other great folks at Autodesk who did such a super job. Below is the full article–and indeed, you’ll see some photos of imminent products that might be appearing soon…on your feet.

How to Become a Product Designer: A Medical Doctor Shifts Career From Academia to Shoe Design

D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, isn’t a product designer. And yet, that’s exactly what she is.

What sounds like a contradiction isn’t at all. Rather, it’s the axiom of a new era in product design—an era in which anyone can leverage technology to turn expertise into ideas and ideas into inventions. Anyone can learn how to become a product designer.

“I’m a good example of how democratization of design technology can allow a physician-scientist, with no prior background in design, to improve how shoes are designed and made,” says Kerrigan, who six years ago left her job as a tenured professor at the University of Virginia to establish OESH, a company that designs and manufactures “responsive” women’s footwear.

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The journey from scientist to shoemaker began more than 20 years ago, when Kerrigan became interested in biomechanics as a student at Harvard Medical School. A former runner, she attended a lecture on gait—the science of walking and running—and became fascinated by the impact of footwear on the human body, which she studied for nearly a decade before publishing a groundbreaking paper in 1998 establishing, for the first time, a link between high-heeled shoes and knee arthritis in women.

“Knee arthritis is a big deal,” Kerrigan says. “It causes more physical disability in the elderly than any other singular disease, but it doesn’t get the attention that other life-threatening things do, because it’s very subtle. People live with it, and they don’t exercise because of the pain and loss of motion [which increases their risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression]. It’s a vicious cycle.”

The culprit isn’t necessarily the height or size of shoes’ heels. The contouring and cushioning of their soles also interfere with the body’s natural range of motion.

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“After I demonstrated the link between high-heeled shoes and knee arthritis, I did more research and found out that it’s not just high heels; it’s any women’s dress shoe, really, that abnormally increases the forces in the areas we get knee arthritis,” continues Kerrigan, whose subsequent studies revealed that even a typical running shoe increases joint loads by 50 percent. “People choose shoes based on what’s comfortable for their feet, but I know there’s a long-term effect on the knees. That’s what eventually led me to decide that we need to make better shoes: I wanted to save knees because nobody else will.”

Ultimately, only shoes, not studies, can save knees from arthritis. So, in 2009, Kerrigan established OESH to turn her research into reality. “You can only do so much research,” she says. “At some point I decided, ‘If I want to make a difference, I’ve got to just get out there and start making shoes.’”

She tried to license her idea—shoes with flat, springy soles that support the body’s natural biomechanics—but existing shoe manufacturers were more interested in form than function.

“They were receptive, but their agenda was very different from mine,” Kerrigan says. “They were very into aesthetics; I just wanted to make something healthy.”

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Kerrigan’s shoes didn’t just have a different agenda. They also had a different makeup: Unlike most shoes, the soles of which are made from an elastic plastic known as ethylene-vinyl acetate, hers are made from a unique elastic composite material that she developed. Not only is the material unique, it is incorporated into a cantilevered structure in the sole that does not “cushion” but rather “responds” to body-weight forces when they are at their greatest.

“I’m just a physician and a researcher; I’m not a machinist,” Kerrigan says. “But I had to learn to become one because my shoes are so nontraditional; they’re very different from what’s currently being made, not only in terms of their design and how they affect the body but also in terms of how they’re manufactured.”

The shoe industry didn’t know how to work with the material Kerrigan developed, nor did it have equipment that could incorporate that material into Kerrigan’s sole designs. So, Kerrigan established her own DIY laboratory and factory in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she taught herself how to design, model, and manufacture with a variety of design tools, including Autodesk AutoCAD and, finally, Autodesk Fusion 360, which she currently uses to manage the entire production process, from initial design through final fabrication.

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“The idea of learning CAD was very daunting, but it ended up being very straightforward and intuitive,” says Kerrigan, who uses the software to operate her own water-jet cutter and milling machine to produce her shoe soles on site.

Kerrigan spent about a year perfecting her initial design through trial and error and began selling her homegrown shoes online in 2011. OESH has been growing and expanding ever since.

“I just had to experiment and figure it out,” she says of design and production. “I couldn’t have done that without technology. The technology is everything.”

The technology didn’t just turn Kerrigan into an inventor. It also turned her into an innovator: Last year, she began using CAD to design and fabricate a dozen specialized 3D printers capable of 3D printing her patented shoe designs, the first of which—a line of 3D-printed sandals—arrive this summer as OESH’s Athena Collection.

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“We’re the first to sell a truly functional 3D-printed shoe,” says Kerrigan, who eventually plans to use 3D printing to fabricate the tops of her shoes, which she currently imports from Asia. The result, she boasts, will be a shoe that’s 100 percent made in America—and, one day perhaps, entirely custom made. “I think that’s where things are going: Instead of injection-molding the same part a billion times, technology will make it possible for manufacturers to embrace many different designs that fit many different needs,” she says.

Not only many different designs but also many different designers. Perhaps even you.

“If there’s something you feel passionate about—something you think could be designed differently and better—you can make it,” Kerrigan concludes. “You don’t need design experience. You just need the technology.”

Happy Mother’s Day

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My mom, Edna Lorraine Kerrigan, with Rusty (who I never met but heard epic stories about), 1958.

Last night I dreamt my mom was at our front door, smiling. It’s not unusual that I dream of my mom, who passed away last year. What was unusual about the dream was that she was at the front door. She would have come in through any other door in the house; not the front door. Perhaps she thought that this particular visit was unexpected.

This is the first year that I almost forgot about Mother’s Day. Ever since I can remember, I would begin thinking about what I’d get my mom for Mother’s Day back on Saint Patrick’s Day, my mom’s birthday. But this year, I didn’t give Mother’s Day much if any thought and in fact, didn’t even know when it was going to occur, until yesterday.

Contributing to my lack of memory is the fact that it hardly seems like it’s been a full year since I wrote my last year’s “Happy Mother’s Day” post. It’s been a busy year at OESH and we’ve been working hard on a new project that we hope to launch and talk about soon; a project that I know my mom would be especially proud of, but which I never had a chance to tell her about. Except for in my dreams.

Here is what I wrote:

“Unconditional love,” my mom used to say, “is the most important thing a mother can give to her child.”

That she gave and more and taught me to give the same to my own daughters. She was successful in making me strong and independent and to never feel like I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl.

I could talk to my mom about anything. And well after I achieved adulthood, I still relied upon her for advice. Should I be a doctor? What kind of a doctor? Should I leave academic medicine to build a shoe factory? Although super smart in ways that I am not (she was a brilliant school teacher and had an amazing understanding of the English language), my mother did not have much scientific experience, other than being married to my scientific genius father and typing his Chemistry PhD thesis. Nonetheless, she so very clearly understood my research and would often help me articulate its impact.

I remember my mom being much dismayed by the poor footwear choices for women. She would tell me about her own mother being physically disabled from wearing high-heeled shoes. And when I was five-years old, and my grandmother, who lived in New York, came to visit us in San Diego, I was struck with the fact that it was painful for her to walk. 

Years later, when I discovered the biomechanical link between high-heeled shoes and knee osteoarthritis, I could hardly wait to come home to tell my mom about it. By that time, she was living with us, caring for our first daughter, Jayme, while I worked. My mom must have read to her nearly every minute of the day. She continued to live with us and did the same with our second and third daughters, Kellyn and Zoe. In so doing, my mom successfully passed on her love for books to our daughters.

My mom was always well ahead of her times and, all along, the sweetest person you could ever meet. She passed away seventy-two days ago on February 28, 2014, shortly after Jayme was accepted to Oxford to “read” English, and seventeen days before what would have been her 91st birthday. One of our dear friends said to me, “I know this time of reflection must be hard. A mother’s bond is the most elemental bond.” Indeed it is hard. Even though my mother had fairly severe dementia (such that we no longer could enjoy the conversations we used to have) for several years, she always knew who I was. And although she had difficulty recognizing objects, she always lit up when I showed her my latest OESH design. I loved giving her the very first pair of any new style we made just as much as she loved wearing them. 

Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Mother’s Day or not, I love you always and forever.