Shoe Factory Equipment : What do I need to make shoes ?

Shoe Factory Equipment : What do I need to make shoes ?

shoe factory equipment to make a sample shoe

What shoe factory equipment would I need to open a real shoe factory? Today I’m going to walk you through a mass production shoe factory and detail all the shoe factory equipment you will need to do it right.  If you are looking for hand tools for shoemaking click here. 
I’m just going to show you what you need to make a standard die cut, cold cemented sneaker.   This is a simple shoe made with only die cut parts.  The outsole is a one piece rubber cupsole with a die cut midsole inside and channel stitching.
First, the modern shoe relies heavily on sub-contract factories for many specialized operations. For example, the outsole units will be developed by the shoe factory technicians but the tooling is made outside and the parts are purchased from a company that specializes in rubber pressing.  The shoe factory controls the components to insure the uppers and outsoles all fit together correctly.

Back inside the shoe factory, the first operations in the manufacturing process are the cutting and marking operations.  The factory will need cutting presses,  also called clicker cutting machines.  The is a shoe cutting clicker pressThese cutting presses require cutting dies for each shoe pattern part.  A new technology for cutting is the computer controlled drag knife cutter.  These machines use a vacuum table to hold materials in place while the blade cuts all the pattern parts. This technology is critical for custom mass production.  The clicker press is one of the standard pieces you will see in every shoe factory.
Once the shoe parts are cut they need to be processed.  Alignment marks are screened printed on parts and any logos are added.  Logos can be silk screen printed, Radio Frequency welded or embroidered on the cut parts.
Shoe_Logo_embroidery_machineshoe logo radio frequency machineOnce the parts are ready and sorted into assembly kits it is time for stitching.  The basic electric sewing machine does the bulk of the heavy lifting.  With the stitching processes broken down into many smaller operations, the workers quickly master their specific tasks.  Operated by an experienced sewer these basic machines can make magic.

shoe factory sewing machine PostType Operated by a rookie, the same stitching machine can be used to make a disaster.  The sewing machines come in many types: post, long arm, short arm, etc.  The stitching line will have hundreds of these machines, more or less depending on the complexity of the shoe design.  The style of machine will also depend on the specific operations required to make each shoe design.  Once the stitching is finished it is time to set the shape of the toe box and heel counters.  These machines heat the thermoplastic counters inside the toe and heel then clamp the shoe to set the shape.

Shoe factory equipment heel forming machineWith the upper almost complete we will need a special sewing machine to finish it.  The Strobel sewing machine was invented by a guy named…you guessed it.  Strobel!  This machine is used to sew the bottom fabric on to the upper. This closes the upper. The fabric bottom or “sock” is marked with alignment lines to insure the upper is straight and not twisted.  Now the upper is ready for lasting and assembly.

With the shoe ready for assembly it is time to bring out the heavy equipment. The basic assembly line is about 100 yards long.  On the front of the line you will find a steamToe lasting machineer to soften the shoe uppers, preparing them for lasting. The lasting machines are used to get the uppers pulled down tight on to the shoe lasts.
The toe lasting machine is the centerpiece of the lasting equipment.  This machine takes hold of the upper and physically pulls it down around the last. The machine simultaneously pulls the upper into place while injecting hot glue to fix the uppers into place on the last.  Once the toe lasting is complete, the shoes waist and heel may also be pulled into place by hand operation or machine processes.  Following the lasting operations, the lasted upper is placed into the first of the tunnels on the line. In this case, a cooling tunnel that shrinks the upper down to the last even tighter.

Now the lasted uppers and outsoles are on the conveyor line together,  each receiving two coats each of primer and cement.  After each application the parts are placed back on the line to travel through a heat tunnel to dry the parts.
Shoe factory assemby Line
Once the parts are fully primed and covered with cement it is time to join the parts together. A worker takes the upper and sole inhand, fitting them together.  Once the parts are fit, a pressing operation insures the bonding surfaces are completely  in contact.  Shoe sole pressing unit

The pressing operation compresses the bottom, sides,  and heel of the sole and upper together.  To set the bond, the lasted upper with the bottom attached is often placed in a chiller unit.  Once out of the chiller unit the shoe is de-lasted by hand or by machine.  Depending on the design the shoe, there may be just a few operations left.  The shoe may receive channel stitching with a special oversized sewing machine that can stitch through the rubber outsole the entire thickness of the upper.

Finally, the shoe may pass through a dryer oven and UV light tunnel to insure there is no possibility of mold growth while the shoe is in transit.

Shoe factory equipment in action

To See this shoe factory equipment in action see our new shoemaking book chapters 8, 9, 10.
How Shoes are Made.

 If you are looking to purchase shoe factory equipment The Sneaker Factory Team has contacts in China that can help you find what you need.  Let us know what you need.


Learn more about making shoes:

Footwear design book Free PFD Shoe Design Book DownloadDo you want to learn how big brands make shoes?  Now you can!  How Shoes are Made will show you how modern shoes come to life! More than just a tour through a sneaker factory and more than your average shoe making book!  From drawing shoe designs to sample development and footwear manufacturing, you will learn how it is all done. Written by veteran shoemaking pros, How Shoes are Made will give you a look inside the REAL world of shoe design, development, and mass production. 220 pages with over 400 color photos and drawings. 26 chapters explaining shoe design, footwear pattern making, sample development, footwear materials selection, upper stitching, outsole and tooling design, shoe lasts, shoe costing, quality inspections, starting you own shoe brand, and much more!  A must read for young shoe designers, sneaker heads, or any footwear fanatic! See Preview Video On YouTube

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Print Edition Now Available!  

Table of Contents:

The Design Process, Shoe Development, Shoe Patterns, Shoe Specifications, Outsole Tooling, Development Process, Pre-Production, Material Preparation, Stitching Operations, Rubber Pressing, EVA Forming, The Assembly Line, The Shoe Last, Footwear Costing, Importing Shoes, Shoe Logo Design, Leather for Shoes, Textiles for Shoes ,Synthetics for Shoes,  Foam for Shoes, Know Your Footbeds, Material Suppliers, Shoe Designers Tools, Jobs in the Shoe Trade ,Quality Control, Starting a Shoe Company, Life at a Shoe Factory, Shoe Making Dictionary

If you want to learn more, check out our new books.

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Print Edition + Paper Pattern + Blue Prints and Spec sheets

A complete technical specification, drawings, blueprint, pattern and spec.

Computer cut shoe pattern for a classic jogger.  Factory Blue Print included.

Entire pattern size run for the Arris classic trainer, Men’s US 7-13 (Euro 39-47)

Shoe last measuring step. Measures last heel lift from 1cm to 11.5 cm.

24 inch tape specifically designed for measuring shoe lasts.

Ready to Print! Men's size 9 last. The .STL file can be scaled in X, Y and Z.

Great for checking leathers and synthetic materials. Features adjustable dial.

Beaked pincers with built in hammer face. For shoe lasting and sole nailing.

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