Dr. Casey Kerrigan, a Harvard Medical School graduate, recognized internationally for her peer-reviewed published research on gait (walking and running) and the effects of footwear, left her perfectly good job at the University of Virginia (UVa), where she was the first woman tenured professor and chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and professor of sports medicine, to make OESH. Casey is well known for dramatically changing the way we think about gait and footwear–ripping apart old, sometimes disastrous concepts and rigorously testing new ones–that have now become standards of normal understanding. Casey is the one who first discovered a link between high-heeled shoes and knee osteoarthritis back in 1998 (which was widely publicized in numerous major news outlet including the New York Times, Time Magazine and ABC’s 20/20). And she is the one who published in 2009 that traditionally designed running shoes also increase knee joint torques. She received the highest honors and level of support from numerous national and international entities including the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Throughout her career, the NIH repeatedly honored Casey’s work through its highly competitive peer-review process, with continuous funding for her research. Casey’s research, along with her years of clinical experience treating the wide variety of problems linked to poor footwear, led her to develop OESH. Additional motivation derives in part from Casey’s experience as a distance runner at the University of Chicago, where she set several school records in the early 1980’s and from her devotion to her three athletic daughters.
Casey, what was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I was injection molding our shoe soles with a uniquely springy material I developed based on my research and thought that perhaps we could 3D print it so as to speed up development and prototyping, and possibly even manufacture soles for mass customization. To print it, though, required building our own 3D printers since nothing yet existed to 3D print it.
You are the founder of shoe company OESH. Can you tell us a bit more about the specificities of the shoes you are manufacturing?
First, unlike most other shoes, our shoe soles are completely flat without any heel elevation or side to side contours because I discovered that these features, typical to footwear, abnormally increase loads on the joints in the body. Second, unlike the typical foam cushion in shoe soles that I’ve also discovered increases loads on the joints in the body, our soles are comprised of a very springy material that effectively dampens all the body weight forces.
How did you come to build the company?
With over a hundred peer-reviewed research publications, I was basically translating my research into a product that I knew would make a difference. As a physician and chair of a department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, a large part of our practice was either helping to prevent and/or treat people with knee osteoarthritis as this causes more physical disability than any other singular disease in the elderly. When I discovered that most footwear increases loads on the knee joint in the exact location where knee osteoarthritis occurs, I knew I had to develop and make better shoes.
What are some of the challenges you encountered when using 3D Printing for a final product such as shoes?
It was not possible to 3D print our soles with regular 3D printers. We had to design and build our own 3D printing system. I was fortunate to receive grants from the National Science Foundation to do this.
What Additive Manufacturing technology / process do you use, and why?
The only way we could print the special springy material we were using in our soles required printing directly from its raw material, which is pellets, instead of the usual filament used in 3D printing.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
There are numerous funny stories mostly having to do with the fact that when I started the factory I didn’t even know the names of common tools, let alone know how to use them. I once went to Lowes looking for a “cheater bar” only to learn that that is just a pipe that you put over the end of a wrench to increase torque.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur and researcher in 3D Printing?
In comparison to my career in academic medicine, including being the first woman professor and department chair at the University of Virginia, where there were numerous “glass ceilings,” the challenges in being a woman entrepreneur and researcher are fairly non-existent. When your goal is simply to design and make a 3D printer system, there is no glass ceiling.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We’re always coming up with new shoe styles. Check out our website for our latest developments!
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
Big shoe companies have been talking about using 3D printing to make on-demand and customizable footwear for several years. Meanwhile, we’ve been selling 3D printed footwear since 2015, making us the very first company to actually do it.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
I see developing specific additive manufacturing systems for the manufacturing of specific products. For example, our printers are designed specifically for printing components of footwear.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
- As an entrepreneur?
3D printing allows me to print a shoe sole that I could have only dreamed of, based on my 20 years of research on how a shoe sole should be constructed.
- As a woman?
3D printing puts me in complete control of our product, eliminating the possibility of any “glass ceiling.”
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I see 3D printing still very much underutilized in footwear manufacturing where 3D printing would theoretically be the most helpful, eliminating the need for molds and providing the ability to customize footwear specifically to an individual. We’re solving that problem by eliminating the technical challenges while simultaneously proving through customer use that the footwear we create with 3D printing is superior to footwear that could be created without it.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Be a role model for middle school and high school age girls, many of whom already have access to 3D printers in their school.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it) ? CNC waterjet saw used to make the parts of our 3D printers.
Favorite moment in your day job? Going for a run in a new pair of prototypes.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Keep making and building our fleet of 3D printers to make footwear based on demand.