3D printed custom orthotics, one practical step to alleviate and prevent physical pain and mental impact in Hospitality and Retail


Are there people you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes? Personally, I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those who necessarily have to spend more time standing in their daily work. Don’t get me wrong, I like running and moving as much as I can. However, standing on one’s feet all day long to work, every day, – not to mention the different and sometimes heavy tasks to do like carrying people – is something I wouldn’t enjoy doing on a daily basis because of the because of the physical pain it can cause to the back or feet in the long run.

Sadly, that’s one of the inconvenients in the work of certain healthcare specialists like nurses, or those who work in the hospitality and retail sectors. 3D printing company Materialise has recently investigated the working conditions of professionals in the last two sectors of activity and found out that the large amounts of time staff spend on their feet is impacting their quality of work and mental wellbeing, with nearly one in five, 19%, having considered their future in the sector to avoid on-the-job pain.

A study conducted by the company reveals that “the majority of retail and hospitality workers, 79%, spend four to ten hours of their shift on their feet. Over a third, 34%, spend between eight and ten hours upright. This extended time standing up and walking around caused 45% of hospitality and retail workers to feel physical pain before the start of the lockdown.”

This means that, if they work less than four hours on their feet, they will not feel a great impact on their work or their body. Between four and eight working hours, physical pain begins to be felt while up to eight hours and more, the pain goes beyond the physical aspect and touches on their mental wellbeing.

So, how can we prevent this physical pain?

Well, the first step would consist in rethinking the working conditions of those workers.

“COVID is providing the hospitality sector with a reset moment and we are looking at ways of working, hours and conditions. As people come back from furlough they are more selective about what they want to do and more demanding as employees. It’s about making sure that we look after our people because they are our most valued and valuable resource and we need to make sure that they can be as comfortable as possible at work”, Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality states.

From a practical point of view, another area for improvement may consist in enhancing their shoes. It might seem trivial, but Materialise notes that customized insoles might help support the feet correctly day in and day out, provide more comfort and minimise the risk of long-term health issues.

The company has been developing for a few years now the Phits 3D printed custom orthotics which are the result of an entirely digital workflow that starts with dynamic gait analysis, which visualises the pressure points of the foot in motion and builds an accurate picture of the foot biomechanics.

Those customized insoles have already been at the heart of the development of customized 3D printed footwear with HP and have also been a perfect fit for British marathon champion Charlotte Purdue’s running style.

From a technological point of view, the data collected during the scanning, serve in the production of tailor-made insole with the aim of preventing injuries and enhancing performance – unlike manual and analogue processes which take static foot imprints but do not take into account the way pressure is distributed during movement.

3D printed insoles enable new levels of customisation, ensuring a truly bespoke solution to cater for unique personal needs”, the company notes.

According to Materialise, only 28% of employees working in hospitality and retail sectors have heard of customized 3D printed insoles. I hope this percentage will increase at the end of this reading.

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