20 Years and Counting - UnionTech’s Application Development Path of Footwear Industry
2020
09/10
01:41
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Preparation Phase: UnionTech has been engaged in the application of 3D printing industry for 20 years

The manufacturing of shoe mold is one of key steps in the process of production of the footwear industry. Most of shoe molds in the traditional footwear market are manufactured by using the traditional CNC and carving introduced in the 1990s until the application of the 3D Printing technology in the shoemaking industry. The manufacturing procedure for one pair of shoe mold from design to the finished mold is very complex, which includes programming, CNC, machining, mold repair, mold trial and texturing, generating long cycle and high cost, thus resulting in the surging labor cost and the low possibility of product renewal. On the other hand, as China has seen its advances in technology and changes in the structure of its labor force, enterprises in the industry are under the pressure from the market, labor force and cost, causing the whole industry to enter a bottleneck period. Under the influence of the upgrade of the chain in the whole industry, it is necessary to transform the manufacturing method of shoe mold into professional intelligent control and mass production that adapts to market development from traditional repetitive production in backward workshops, so the introduction of new technologies is critical to drive a new round of development. As the first Chinese enterprise who successfully transforms 3D printing technology into commercial use from laboratory application, UnionTech has observed the bottleneck and breakthrough point of the development of 3D printing in its earlier market exploration. With continuous breakthroughs in 3D printing technology, the development in the client side has become the key to win the market. UnionTech has keen insight into this observation, and targets the shoemaking industry for in-depth vertical R&D and application in addition to the prototype factories that are developed maturely at the early stage.

In order to facilitate the industry development, UnionTech entered Jinjiang, Fujian Province, the capital of the shoe industry, played a part in the shoe mold manufacturing field and applied 3D printing technology to the manufacturing of shoe sole mold, so as to stimulate the upgrading of the manufacturing industry. As a kind of tool-making for manufacturing or replicating finished products, mold is manufactured whose cycle and quality will affect the renewal and competitiveness of products in the market. In the process of manufacturing mold, it is needed not only to shorten the production cycle effectively and ensure the product quality, but also to control the cost of mold. The cost control is proportional to the delivery time. If the mold quality meets the requirements at one time, involving few modifications and short delivery time, the enterprise will bear lower manufacturing cost and yield higher profits, representing a unique source of competitive edge in the process of accepting orders in the market. On the contrary, low-quality mold will cause the enterprise to lose certain competitive edge, and generate zero or even negative earnings. With the three advantages of "fast, accurate, cost-efficient", the 3D Printing technology has solved the difficulties faced by the traditional shoe mold manufacturing.

Fast: It significantly simplifies the process of manufacturing shoe mold, and shorten the cycle of mold manufacturing;

Accurate: It is excellent in product accuracy and detailing, and avoids errors arising from traditional mold repair.

Cost-efficient: Low comprehensive cost.

It is not easy for UnionTech to introduce 3D printing into shoe mold manufacturing from the outset. Since each industry has its own long-term industrial characteristics, and the traditional NC wood mold for shoemaking only requires Rhino data on 3D modeling before the processing, while 3D printing technology requires watertight data instead of Rhino data, the application of 3D printing is thus stuck with the modeling behavior and computation of man-hour in the industry. However, it is the first step that 3D printing enter the shoe mold manufacturing field. 3D printing technology cannot be actually applied in the industry if there remains this problem. In order to tackle this problem, UnionTech has formed a Jinjiang-based specialized research team in the shoe mold manufacturing process, and cooperated closely with local shoe mold manufacturing industry to integrate the 3D printing process through the shoemaking application. Based on continuous case comparison and data analysis in practice, by virtue of a large amount of time and investment, the Company has spent three years on application research and actively working with customers in trial production to generate the soaring application value of this technology.


Development Phase: Analysis on Case of 3D Printing Transforming Shoe Mold Manufacturing Technique

● Cooperation with Adidas & Baocheng International Group

UnionTech has been an active player in the application market of the shoemaking industry. It was 2005 when UnionTech got in touch with the world-famous sports brand giant Adidas. At that time, Adidas was the first to observe the difficulties approaching the shoemaking industry, and also the first to actively seek new production technologies to solve the existing problems. UnionTech’s 3D printing technology and industry application experience have been recognized by Adidas.

Baocheng International Group (an OEM/ODM of Adidas), as the unit for pilot production for UnionTech’s 3D printing technology, boosts the development of 3D printing in the shoemaking industry. Baocheng Group is the largest manufacturer for sneakers and casual shoes in the world and also is the unique professional shoemaking manufacturer who can provide services for tens of international brands in the meantime. The annual output of Baocheng Group is about 300 million pairs of shoes, accounting for 20% of the global sneakers and casual shoes at the wholesale price.  

With so large shoemaking capacity, Baocheng needs to keep accelerating its production efficiency, strengthening its product quality and enhancing its competitiveness. However, due to increase in labor cost, the footwear industry is confronted with a range of problems, e.g. industrial transfer, industrial upgrading. Besides, with the market change of diversified product of small amount and rapid product change, there are more stringent requirements on techniques in terms of product innovation.

Relying on its 3D printing technology, UnionTech coordinates with Baocheng Group in testing and optimizing the application in shoe mold manufacturing. After years of process optimization and technology promotion, the technology has garnered wide acclaim from Adidas. In 2014, the first RS 3D Printer of UnionTech entered the production base of Baocheng Group for shoe mold casting, highlighting its importance to the sole mold manufacturing industry. So far, Baocheng Group owns almost 30 pieces of UnionTech 3D printing equipment.

UnionTech’s cooperation with Adidas and Baocheng Group has achieved win-win situation. The cooperation has helped UnionTech open the door to the application in shoe mold manufacturing, build brand reputation and achieve performance growth, which lays the foundation of rapid development in the future.

● Downsizing employees from 500 to 200, Putian Xiexin Molds keeps performance growth!

During its strong presence in the footwear industry, UnionTech aims to solve problems for clients and energize the industry. The other typical case is Putian Xiexin Molds. It is founded from a company of 30 workers, and expand rapidly to have over 200 employees in 2005 and 500 staff members in 2008 (the peak) due to increasing business growth. However, in the face of workforce redundancy and rise in comprehensive cost, Xiexin has begun to reduce its staff from 500 to 400 since 2010. When 3D printing technology was introduced in 2006, Xiexin significantly went into reverse. UnionTech’s five pieces of 3D printing equipment replaced CNC completely, enabling Xiexin to achieve saturated production operating around the clock every day. The amount of Xiexin’s monthly mass production molds is 800-1000 sets, i.e. with the staff of 200, Xiexin keeps its capacity increasing.

Just as Putian Xiexin Molds, lots of mold manufacturers and brand manufacturers in the footwear industry spare no effort to seek for new technologies to energize the industrial chain, and have carried out feasible practical application to the sole and upper model via 3D printing technology respectively. The superiority of process and design via 3D printing technology improves the R&D efficiency, and highlights the creativity, which really realizes the optimization and upgrading of the product lines. Consequently, the wood mold CNC is basically replaced by 3D printing.


UnionTech’s Development History in the Footwear Industry:

UnionTech is aimed at the interconnecting service and layout of Industry 4.0, and tries to create user value and to enhance user experience by make continuous improvements in its 3D printing and new supporting applications. One automated accurate supporting software launched by it in 2013 could significantly simplify the production process, reduce the resin consumption, cut the labor cost and ensure the first-yield pass of finished products. In the aspect of transformation from 3D Rhino data into watertight STL data, UnionTech forms a professional technical support team, who offers strong support on modeling guidance, and on rapid, efficient and accurate data repair. When it is considered as the market access threshold for the application, Baocheng Group has updated the method fundamentally and changed the modeling behavior, thus rapidly facilitating and rolling out the application.

In 2016, UnionTech launched the “FM/FL” series of SLA 3D printing equipment that is specially designed for shoe mold manufacturing. The two series of 3D printing equipment, with the positioning of “innovator of mass production molds in the footwear industry”, have worked out the mold industrialization problem in the footwear industry, avoided the manufacturing process of the traditional wood mold technique, and started its technical development, thus achieving higher production efficiency. FM700 is the first dual-laser SLA 3D printer that is used for shoe mold manufacturing around the world, and one of its important development tendencies is high-efficiency. Upon delivery, the FM700 is used in production of Baocheng Group. The dual-laser printer and the variable spot technology significantly boost the shoe mold production efficiency, and bring in visible economic benefits.

FM700 dual-laser head printer:

The total duration of variable spot printing is: 12H, i.e. the duration for each shoe is about 1 hour.

In the same year, UnionTech launched its EPM cloud platform system, implementing the distributed intelligent manufacturing IOT in the shoe mold industry. In February, 2020, UnionFab was official launched by UnionTech. Based on intelligent hardware, cloud computing, edge computing, IoT, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies, UnionFab provides users with cloud 3D printing, intelligent production scheduling, auxiliary data model repair, remote monitoring of equipment, production data analysis, standardization management of complete service flow, thus helping enterprises enhance production efficiency, reduce dependence on field production personnel, and achieve the fine management on the production process.

It is concluded from UnionTech’s application history in the shoemaking industry that each technical improvement has driven the industry to move forward:

In 2006, UnionTech entered the shoemaking industry bases in Guangdong Province and Fujian Province to obtain understanding of demands In 2007, UnionTech solved a variety of difficulties that restricted the development of 3D printing in the shoemaking industry In 2008, UnionTech started the transformation of watertight data solution in the footwear industry In 2013, UnionTech introduced into the one-key support software, which reduced production depletion and improved the work efficiency In 2014, the first 3D Printer of UnionTech entered Baocheng Group, marking the cooperation between UnionTech and Adidas; with its 3D printer, UnionTech became a mold supplier of Adidas. In 2014, PEAK introduced into 3D Printer for its development in the footwear industry;

In 2015, by cooperating with Adidas, UnionTech and tens of mold factories under its control held the application technology seminar of 3D printing in the footwear industry in Shanghai In 2016, UnionTech & Adidas licensed the digital texturing technology application, and UnionTech Office in Jinjiang, Fujian Province was officially established.  

In 2017, UnionTech launched the first dual-laser head 3D printer FM700, and released a series of professional equipment that are applied in the shoemaking industry. This year was also the first year of mass production of shoe mold.  In 2017, UnionTech entered the overseas market, and set up a branch in Vietnam. FL700 upon research and development was launched in the domestic market. In the same year, Adidas and UnionTech jointly held the two-day application technology seminar in the footwear industry in Shanghai In 2018, the FS series of soft trial equipment and materials were launched, and UnionTech began to cooperate with ANTA, one well-known sports brand.

In 2019, the high-precision small-sized production equipment FM285 to be used for IP foaming mold was launched In 2020, FM300 (updated version of FM285) was successfully developed; meanwhile, FL660, the new mass production equipment for shoe mold was launched.


Future Blueprint: To Explore In-depth Application of 3D Printing in the Footwear Industry

After years of efforts, the shoe mold manufacturing equipment of UnionTech accounts for about 60% of China’s total 3D printing equipment for mold making currently, covering several industrial centers around the world, e.g. Fujian Province, Guangdong Province, Shandong Province, Henan Province and Hebei Province in China, and Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey. etc. "To provide excellent 3D printing system solutions and to reform traditional manufacturing and business mode with 3D printing technology” is UnionTech's corporate mission. In order to further facilitate industrial development and to establish long-term friendly cooperation with new and regular customers, UnionTech’s Footwear Business Unit keeps upgrading its technology in the application and provides the most valuable solutions for the supply chain of the footwear industry with a broad range of optimized schemes, which is also the direction that UnionTech strives for in the footwear industry.

New technology advances the development of the market and the industry. It’s predicated that breakthroughs in new processes and new technologies will be made in terms of the machines and shoe materials of China's shoemaking industry. 3D printing technology has universally developed in the shoemaking industry, and 3D printing will bring more advantages in the future. At present, 3D printing technology is not only applied in the shoe mold manufacturing industry, but also has extended to supporting applications, e.g. personalized customization, direct midsole, direct mold, and smart, enabling the industry to enter a new era of innovative development.

UnionTech will continue to actively explore the new manufacturing models and new management models in the footwear industry, and keep improving the equipment, process and materials, so as to provide a benchmark for the entire industry and to drive the industry into a new pattern.

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