Shoe Factory Equipment: What do I need to make shoes?
What shoe factory equipment do I need to open a real shoe factory? 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 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, modern shoe manufacturing relies heavily on sub-contracted factories for many specialized operations. For example, the shoe factory technicians developed the outsole designs but the outsole tooling is produced elsewhere. The rubber parts are purchased from a company that specializes in rubber pressing. The shoe factory controls the components to ensure the uppers and outsoles all fit together correctly.
Cutting and Marking
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 clicker press is one of the standard pieces you will see in every shoe factory. These 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.
Once the shoe parts are cut they need to be processed. Alignment marks are screen printed on the parts and any logos are added. Logos can be silk screen printed, radio frequency welded, or embroidered on the cut parts.
Once 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.
If 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.
With 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 onto the upper. This closes the upper. The fabric bottom or “sock” is marked with alignment lines to ensure 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 steamer to soften the shoe uppers, preparing them for lasting. The lasting machines are used to get the uppers pulled down tight onto 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.
Primer and Cement
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.
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 in-hand, fitting them together. Once the parts are fit, a pressing operation ensures the bonding surfaces are completely in contact.
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 of 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 and the entire thickness of the upper.
Finally, the shoe may pass through a dryer oven and UV light tunnel to ensure there is no possibility of mold growth while the shoe is in transit.
To see this shoe factory equipment in action read chapters 8, 9, and 10 of 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.
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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
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