By: 1 November 2007

It is widely accepted that it is now very difficult to obtain high quality, accurately made custom orthopaedic shoes in the UK. Patients are frequently faced with long delays, limited choice of styles, badly made shoes and poor quality of fit – even after a number of corrections.

These problems have been solved in the German market where, for the last three years, clinics have been using a state-of-the-art digital shoemaking service. It has cut waiting times to six working days, offers a huge range of styles, and delivers a 98% first time fit rate far in excess of anything achievable using traditional production methods. The process has been developed by Fromme Orthop䤩e Schuhtechnik GmbH, a long established orthopaedic shoemaking company based near Dusseldorf, and it is now available in the UK.

The Fromme shoemaking process begins with a precise digital scan of the foot using the British-made FotoScan 3D foot scanner. The scan is a photographic process that takes around four seconds to scan each foot. The system then automatically creates a full colour 3D digital cast that is accurate to within 0.5 mm.

The foot scans and the shoe styles required, together with any supplementary clinical information (such as x-rays), are then emailed to Frommes German factory where the shoemaking process begins. The design of the shoe lasts and patterns is handled digitally through CAD/CAM, and then the components are manufactured using computer controlled machinery. The shoes are then assembled and hand-finished. The whole process – from foot scan to shoe assembly – takes six working days.

The Fromme system has been trialled at St Helens Hospital in Liverpool and the results have been hugely successful. Ian Spencer, Head of Service of the Orthotic Department, says: We have found it increasingly difficult to source good quality custom footwear in the UK, and the Fromme system has completely solved that problem. The quality of fit and manufacture is outstanding and our patients, including some that have been unhappy with their shoes for years, now leave our clinic delighted with their footwear.

The trial has also showed that the scanning process can be successfully applied to custom orthotics, and it has demonstrated the value of the 3D colour photographs for use with patients clinical records. Fromme footwear is now available to any clinic in the UK with a FotoScan 3D foot scanner.