A lot is happening in the orthopedics and orthotics market. Manufacturers are increasingly testing the boundaries of what is possible for custom orthotics production and innovative technologies are being introduced. It results in time and cost-reductive processes, which in turn leads to new opportunities in the field.
Thanks to technological developments, the orthotic market is slowly shifting towards additive manufacturing with larger production volumes and being commercially available, without being bound to a physical location. We asked ourselves: how will it look when it gets there? As Diana Hall, President and Founder of ActivArmor said, “it is not a one-size-fits-all world.”
The accessibility of orthotics right now
The traditional craft of making custom-fit orthotics is a respected but time-consuming and intricate process. If consumers desire an orthotic device, they must visit a professional clinic that spends up to days creating a device when made the traditional way. With the extensive manual work, it is quite a costly affair. In other words, the threshold to obtain a custom orthotic such as an insole, protective helmet, or hand brace, for example, is high.
Orthotics can prevent and treat various problems related to the musculoskeletal system, impacting the patient’s quality of life. That is why the accessibility of high-quality custom-fit orthotics is important. The commercialization of these kinds of orthotics does benefit not only the manufacturer but also the end-user.
The transition to a digital additive manufacturing flow
The orthopedic and orthotic market slowly transitions to a digital production flow, replacing partly inefficient steps and labor-intensive conventional production methods. This is thanks to mass customization solutions, including custom design and order management software, becoming simpler and easier to use.
Moving towards a digital production flow is made a logical choice. It saves producers costs, time, and inventory space.
Digital processes lowering the threshold
But how do digital technologies lower the threshold for the consumer? Because a device’s production can be completed within a few hours, and technicians save days by implementing additive manufacturing technology, the product costs less and is more affordable. On top of that, orthotic manufacturers can scale up while creating a one-of-a-kind (unique), custom-fit device every time around. Customers will receive a high-quality product that provides comfort and a precise fit.
In addition, 3D scanning technology is making vast steps ahead. It is an easy and fast way to obtain precise measurements for creating custom orthotics. The 3D scanning devices and tools continuously become more user-friendly and cheaper. This means that anyone can perform a high-quality scan anywhere, using smartphones, tablets, or mobile devices. Think of clinics where medical professionals perform 3D scans, and it uploads immediately onto the customization software platform. Or, think of opportunities in retail.
The custom orthotic in-store experience
Considering customizable products are sought after, and customer experience is more important than ever, we also see the future of orthotics in a commercial retail environment.
The improved digital manufacturing flow ensures faster production and lowers costs. As a result, it opens doors to new potential customer bases by answering changing customer needs and offering more solutions for different people. It leads to opportunities, such as offering consumers a tailor-made solution for other purposes than medical treatment, including comfortable insoles made-to-fit for any shoe.
Customization and brand experience
Due to the evolution towards completely digital production, which facilitates the availability and accessibility of custom-made orthotics, more people will be able and willing to buy those types of products. And where can you provide the ultimate immersive experience for those potential customers? In a custom orthotic (online-) store or clinic.
We envision the future orthotic point of sale as a design-focused store where customization and brand experience are key. The customer will go from performing a body-part scan to receiving their custom-designed insoles in a few days.
The idea of ‘showroom stores’ has been around for some time, but it is new and suitable for customizable products. The products are showcased digitally, you can customize your own product in-store, and it is delivered to your doorstep one or two days later. This concept’s value is that customers get to interact with the product and the brand during their visit.
Minimal customer effort for a high quality orthotic
Since 3D scanning devices are increasingly user-friendly, we imagine the next step being a semi-automated full-body scanner. As a customer, you step in, and the scanner scans the required body part, such as an arm, foot, or ankle.
The custom-fit product, based on the 3D scan, is then presented on a screen. The displayed configurator provides the customer with the opportunity to design their own custom orthotic device. Elements such as color, shape, structure, and text are customizable. The finished custom product is adjusted to the customer’s unique measurements and aesthetic preference.
The finalized orthosis is ordered in-store, produced at a local 3D printing supplier, and a few days later, it arrives at the customer’s doorstep, or it is ready to be picked up at the retail store—a smooth customer experience where minimal effort is required to obtain a high-quality custom product.
Centralized on-demand manufacturing
To manage production efficiently, we envision a centralized on-demand manufacturing unit. This unit would process the orders from all custom-orthotic retailers within a certain perimeter to minimize the ecological footstep caused by international transportation. Not printing the orthotics in-house or in the store also saves expertise and space, which can be expensive in inner-city shopping areas.
After purchase, the custom orthotic order would automatically be sent to the printing facility through order management software. Every production file is tagged with a unique ID number that is also printed into the part for optimal order management. It ensures a smooth digital production process with reduced lead time. When the custom orthotic is ready to be worn, it is directly shipped to the customer.
The economic value of product mass customization
However, our vision of the custom orthotic in-store experience is not yet fully realized; some big players in retail are taking steps in this direction. Decathlon already offers a unique in-store customer experience in collaboration with Twikit. Customers can create their own custom handlebars to fit on their bikes in-store. The French sporting goods retailer (with their own additive manufacturing department) sees the economic and competitive value of customization. We predict more companies are soon to follow in their footsteps.
Because the lead time between order and finalized product can be decreased immensely, new opportunities arise for the custom orthotics market. The innovative technologies ensure customers can have a 3D scan taken, personalize the device and place their order all inside a store. Orthotic manufacturers can expand their customer base and explore new market opportunities, such as retail. If you ask us, it is the future of orthotics.