Aspects of automation in the shoe industry
The shoe manufacturing industry has undergone a revolution during the last 50 years, due to the introduction of task specific machinery. Great technological strides have been made in the areas of shoe manufacture prior to actual component assembly. Computer systems are now becoming the norm for the design of shoes for today's market place. Technological innovations have also started to be applied in the assembly and construction processes of modern shoes. Computer controlled cutting machines calculate the optimum usage of leather from any given hide, new machines allow decorative stitch patterns to be associated with a given shape and size of component and automatically stitched on to the presented workpiece. However the majority of assembly operations have remained predominantly manual with technology playing a secondary role to the human operator due to complexities either in manipulation, control or sensing. In these machines electronic and mechanical innovations have been used to add new features to often simple machines and in some cases to simplify some of the more complex operations, thus increasing productivity but reducing the required dexterity and knowledge of an operator. Modern preferences in industry are to utilise fully automated machines, that are as operator independent as possible, thus improving quality, consistency and production speed whilst at the same time reducing production costs.Due to the nature of the shoe manufacturing industry and the complex operations that have to be performed in order to construct a shoe, machinery manufacturers who have ventured into this field of automation have generally struggled to gain acceptance from the shoe makers as the machinery is generally complex and slow in operation. This together with the fact that a large proportion of the world's main footwear production is centred in the far east, with their correspondingly low labour costs, has held back the automation of the shoe manufacturing industry.This thesis examines a selection of operations encountered in the construction of a typical shoe. These include operations for processing single flat component parts as well as more complex three-dimensional operations encountered when lasting and soling a shoe. The aim of the research was to develop an understanding of processes encountered in specific areas within the shoe manufacturing industry in order to identify areas where further advances in automation could be achieved. This understanding has been applied to produce proposals and in some cases hardware, to allow for the development of working systems.