Modern running shoes are marvels of technology.
In the case of Waltham, Mass.-based footwear company Saucony, that means inserting a carbon fiber plate inside the footbed to provide springiness, implanting advanced foams in the midsoles to give back 90% of the energy a runner puts in, and minutely altering the curvature of a shoe’s sole depending on whether it will be used on rocky trails or smooth pavement. “It’s almost like pogo sticks on your feet,” said Saucony director of product engineering Luca Ciccone.
But when it comes time to examine the innards of Saucony’s shoes to see whether manufacturing partners in Asia are implementing all those innovations, the company’s engineers have long resorted to a less illustrious technology: a bandsaw. For years, Ciccone has had to take shoes fresh off the assembly line and literally saw them in half to see what’s going on inside, destroying them in the process.
That has changed with help from Lumafield, a startup just out of stealth mode in Cambridge, Mass., that has built a compact computed tomography scanner for use by engineers who develop consumer products. Ciccone can now press a button to create a colorful 3D X-ray of the shoes and pop open the file in a web browser. “A picture might tell you 1,000 words, but a 3D model will answer a million questions,” Ciccone said.
To test out the scanner ourselves, The Information Weekend grabbed a few products from home, including a Theragun mini massage gun and a pair of Beats Solo headphones, and took them to get scanned at the Lumafield software development hub in San Francisco’s Mission District. In less than a day, the images came back: They showed an intricate cam system driving the Theragun and wireless Beats headphones that are actually full of wires on the inside. To drum up interest before its public debut, Lumafield has been covertly operating a site called Scan of the Month where it probes everyday objects to reveal the engineering within, such as a surprisingly complex Heinz ketchup squeeze bottle.