Student Startup Dimitri Brings 3D Printing to Shoes

two students discussing the insole of a shoe
Leo Jingyang Liu (M.Arch. '15, M.S. '20), left, and Val Mack '17 of Dimitri. photo / provided
a student looking into a 3D printer
Leo Jingyang Liu (M.Arch. '15, M.S. '20) watches the 3D printer create a customized insole. photo / provided
Leo Jingyang Liu (M.Arch. '15, M.S. '20), left, and Val Mack '17 of Dimitri. photo / provided Leo Jingyang Liu (M.Arch. '15, M.S. '20) watches the 3D printer create a customized insole. photo / provided
April 27, 2017

It was during an apprenticeship with a New York City watchmaker that Val Mack '17, an M.P.S. candidate in information science, first became intrigued by the concept of 3D printing and its value for individual consumers. She wondered if 3D printing could offer consumers the ability to create things that they really need for themselves.

"I was thinking about the craftsmanship that goes into high-quality watches, and for some reason, a connection came to me between that and 3D printing," said Mack. "Each watch that I took apart and put back together had my own personal touch. With 3D printing, there's going to be a market for people who want customized products that fit them really well."

Mack, along with engineering students Khalil Hajji '17, Mutahir Kazmi '17, and Leo Jingyang Liu (M.Arch. '15, M.S. '20) are the force behind Dimitri, a student startup and member of the 2016–17 eLab business accelerator program at Cornell looking to make 3D printing more accessible.

"Last semester we were working on software that would help 3D printing users improve their products, making the 3D printers more reliable," said Mack. "The goal was to understand how this software could be developed so that it would help make 3D printing easier."

They spoke with students, faculty, and experts in various industries — including Food Ink, the first 3D-printing restaurant based in London, in which all furniture, food, and utensils are created from 3D printing technology — to learn more about the creative ways that different industries use 3D printing.

"What Food Ink is doing is so cool because no one has ever done it before. They're learning firsthand all the challenges of really scaling something that's made entirely with 3D printing," said Mack.

In December, Dimitri pitched their idea at eLab's annual Pitch Night NYC at the Wilmer Hale Building in New York City to a group of more than 50 alumni and prospective advisors. This was a major turning point for Dimitri, as the feedback they received led them to pivot their business model approach altogether.

"It was a very good learning experience because our assumptions about this technology were wrong," said Mack. "It helped us to better understand what the challenges are and how people are using the technology. Because there are so many factors that affect 3D printing, it is too unreliable and expensive for the average person to invest in it at present."

Dimitri turned its focus on using 3D printing to create customized insoles for shoes. The team uses imaging software to scan an individual's feet and generate a 3D model. The model is then used to design custom-fit insoles created by desktop 3D printers.

"We are starting with shoes, and developing the perfect fitting shoe for each individual customer based on the unique shape of their feet," said Mack. "In doing this we have learned the limitations of 3D printing, the areas where innovation is desperately needed, and how it will be possible for average consumers to create 3D printed products for themselves."

Looking toward the future, Mack said, "Shoes and insoles are just a start and a way for us to test the waters. We want to provide consumers with a useful example of what 3D printing can do for them. This is what will bring demand into the 3D printing space, which in turn will improve printer quality and lower costs."

—This article is reprinted with permission from Cornell University's Medium Channel.

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