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Project context and objectives



With more than 26.000 companies and almost 400.000 employees footwear industry is still relevant in Europe. However the trend shows a clear decline on business figures; low cost countries are becoming an obvious threat for the future of the sector.


Fig. 1 Semi-automatic assembly operation

Fashion Footwear production is currently mainly handcrafted. Some manufacturing processes are assisted by specialized machinery (last manufacture, cementing, and cutting) and there exist highly automated lines in mass production of technical shoes (i.e. safety footwear). But most production is still handmade, being especially true in the case of high added value shoes production, where Europe maintains its leadership.

The introduction of intelligent robotics will contribute to overcome the complexity in the automation of the processes of this industry that accounts for some of the shortest production runs to be found (eight pairs of shoes is the average order size). The main reasons that justify this lack of automation and extensive labour demand are:

  • The high number of products variants due to:
    • Models: every year a minimum of two different collections (summer & winter) of shoes, sandals, boots, etc. are developed to be presented to the customers. As an average, more than 200 different models are manufactured for the two seasons.
    • Sizes: It is necessary to adapt each model in at least six different sizes and two sides (left and right).
    • Materials colours: Each model can be manufactured in different leather qualities and for each quality in different colours.


Fig. 2 Manual cutting of leather parts

  • Complex manufacturing process, for each model it is necessary to develop and manufacture the last (the rough form of a human foot used in shoemaking to provide the fit and style of a shoe ), to produce the list of components (sole, heel, sock, strap, inner parts, etc.), to cut the inner and outside parts, to stitch inner and outside parts.
  • Complex assembly process. The assembly process is very laborious (up to 25 different operations) and especially complex in fitting operations due to the non uniformity and the different elasticity of the natural leather as well as the non-rigid nature of the components that difficult their manipulation. Finally each pair of shoes requires a final inspection (small spots or colour differences in the leather, correct alignment of pieces over the last, etc.) and to finish the packaging that requires the introduction in the shoe of a piece silk paper adjusted with a fitted stick and the final introduction into the box with additional pieces of paper sheets.


Although some companies in this sector tried in the past to incorporate robotic solutions, they did not succeed in the objective except for specific operations related to the injection process, as stated before. ROBOFOOT is developing different solutions to facilitate the introduction of robotics in traditional footwear industry.


To achieve this general objective the 10 partners that compound the ROBOFOOT Consortium have identified the main requirements and selected those operations that have higher impact in the companies.


Fig. 3 ROBOFOOT Consortium