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Title:
METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR AUTOMATICALLY MANUFACTURING SHOE SOLES
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/202840
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The present invention relates to a method and an apparatus for automatically manufacturing shoe soles. According to an aspect of the invention, a method for automated manufacturing of shoe soles comprises the steps of: (a) loading a transfer device with at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element, (b) positioning the loaded transfer device adjacent a first part and a second part of a sole mold, (c) transferring the at least one outsole element from the transfer device to the first part and transferring the at least one supporting element from the transfer device to the second part of the sole mold,(d) filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles,and(e) applying a medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

More Like This:
WO/2018/167331FOOTWEAR SOLE
Inventors:
LE, Tru Huu Minh (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
LANDECK, Carsten (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
HOLMES, Christopher Edward (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
WARDLAW, Angus (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
DYCKMANS, Christoph (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
FATHI, Amir (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
KEMMER, Constantin Joachim Nikolas (Frankenstraße 2, Kreuzwertheim, 97892, DE)
ROMANOV, Victor (Frankenstraße 2, Kreuzwertheim, 97892, DE)
Application Number:
EP2017/062407
Publication Date:
November 30, 2017
Filing Date:
May 23, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ADIDAS AG (Adi-Dassler-Str. 1, Herzogenaurach, 91074, DE)
International Classes:
A43B13/00; B29D35/12
Domestic Patent References:
WO2005066250A12005-07-21
WO2012065926A12012-05-24
WO2007082838A12007-07-26
WO2008087078A12008-07-24
Foreign References:
EP2786670A12014-10-08
US20120056345A12012-03-08
US20130126075A12013-05-23
US20020170650A12002-11-21
EP2649896A22013-10-16
DE102011108744A12013-01-31
EP2984956A12016-02-17
EP2767181A12014-08-20
EP2786670A12014-10-08
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WEGNER, Hans et al. (Bardehle Pagenberg Partnerschaft mbB Patentanwälte, RechtsanwältePrinzregentenplatz 7, München, 81675, DE)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

Method for automated manufacturing of shoe soles comprising the steps of: a. loading (107) a transfer device (105; 305) with at least one outsole element (110; 310) and at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315);

b. positioning (120; 320) the loaded transfer device (105; 305) adjacent a first part (200) and a second part (125; 210) of a sole mold;

c. transferring (127) the at least one outsole element (110; 310) from the

transfer device (105; 305) to the first part (200) and transferring (127) the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) from the transfer device (105; 305) to the second part (125; 210) of the sole mold;

d. filling (130) the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles; and e. applying (140) a medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element (110; 310).

Method according to claim 1, wherein the transfer device (105; 305) is in step b. positioned between a first part (200) and a second part (125; 210) of a sole mold.

Method according to the preceding claims 1 or 2, wherein the step of loading (107) the transfer device (105; 305) comprises the steps of:

attaching the at least one outsole element (110; 310) to a first side of a transfer device (105; 305);

rotating (150) the transfer device (105; 305); and

attaching the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) to a second side of the transfer device (105; 305) opposite to the first side.

Method according to the preceding claim 3, wherein the steps of attaching comprises suctioning the at least one outsole element (110; 310) and / or the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315).

Method according to one of the preceding claims 1 - 4, wherein the step of transferring (127) the at least one outsole element (110; 310) comprises placing the at least one outsole element (no; 310) into at least one correspondingly shaped recess (235) provided in the first part (200) of the mold.

Method according to one of the preceding claims 1 - 5, wherein the step of transferring (127) the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) comprises placing the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) in a holding element (160; 220) provided in the second part (125; 210) of the mold.

Method according to one of the preceding claims 1 - 6, further comprising the step of ejecting the molded shoe sole from the mold by means of ejecting devices integrated into the holding element (160; 220) for the supporting element (115; 215; 315)·

Apparatus (100; 300) for automated manufacturing of shoe soles, comprising: a. a transfer device (105; 305) adapted to be loaded with at least one outsole element (110; 310) and at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315); b. a robotic device (122; 317) adapted to position the loaded transfer device (105; 305) adjacent a first part (200) and a second part (125; 210) of a sole mold;

c. wherein the robotic device (122; 317) is further adapted to transfer the at least one outsole element (110; 310) from the transfer device (105; 305) to the first part (200) and adapted to transfer (127) the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) from the transfer device (105; 305) to the second part (125; 210) of the sole mold;

d. a particle supply (135) adapted to fill the sole mold with a plurality of

individual particles; and

e. a medium supply (145), the medium being adapted to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

Apparatus (100; 300) according to the preceding claim 8, wherein the robotic device (122; 317) is adapted to position the loaded transfer device (105; 305) between the first (200) and the second part (125; 210) of the sole mold.

10. Apparatus (loo; 300) according to claim 8 or 9, wherein the transfer device (105; 305) is adapted to be loaded with the at least one outsole element (110; 310) and the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) on opposite sides of the transfer device (105; 305).

11. Apparatus (100; 300) according to one of the preceding claims 8 - 10, wherein the transfer device (105; 305) is adapted to suction the at least one outsole element (110; 310) and / or the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315).

12. Apparatus (100; 300) according to one of the preceding claims 8 - 11, wherein the robotic device (122; 317) is adapted to place the at least one outsole element (110; 310) into at least one correspondingly shaped recess (235) provided in the first part (200) of the mold.

13. Apparatus (100; 300) according to one of the preceding claims 8 - 12, wherein the robotic device (122; 317) is adapted to place the at least one supporting element (115; 215; 315) in a holding element (160; 220) provided in the second part (125; 210) of the mold.

14. Sole manufactured with a method according to one of the preceding claims 1 - 7.

15. Shoe comprising a shoe sole according to claim 14.

Description:
Method and apparatus for automatically manufacturing shoe soles l. Technical field

The present invention relates to a method and an apparatus for automatically manufacturing shoe soles. Moreover, the present invention relates to shoe soles and shoes manufactured by such methods and apparatuses. 2. Description of the prior art

The conventional manufacture of shoe soles, in particular for sport shoes, generally involves processing various plastic components. However, the processing of plastic materials, for example by injection molding, may be harmful for the environment and dangerous for workers due to an extensive use of solvents and / or adhesives in a number of production steps.

One option to avoid or at least reduce the use of such dangerous substances is to provide shoe soles from particles that can be molded together by applying steam. Various methods for manufacturing a shoe sole from such particles are known, for example from EP 2 649 896 A2, WO 2005/066250 Ai, WO 2012/065926 Ai, DE 10 2011 108 744 Ai, and EP 2 984 956 Ai. Further prior art in this regard is disclosed in EP 2 767 181 Ai, WO 2007/082838 Ai WO 2008/087078 Ai. However, a common disadvantage of these production methods is that they are still very complicated and labor intensive.

To overcome these disadvantages applicant has disclosed in EP 2 786 670 Ai a method for manufacturing a part of a shoe sole from particles, wherein the individual steps of the method are carried out at various processing stations of an automated production facility. While the disclosed facility somewhat improves the productivity of the automated manufacture of a shoe sole, the large number of automated manufacturing steps is still costly and difficult to implement. Therefore, the underlying problem of the present invention is to provide improved methods and apparatuses for the automated manufacture of shoe soles from particles in order to at least partly overcome the above mentioned deficiencies of the prior art. . Summary of the invention

The above mentioned problem is at least partly solved by a method and an apparatus according to the independent claims. In one embodiment, the method comprises the steps of (a) loading a transfer device with at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element, (b) positioning the loaded transfer device adjacent or even between a first part and a second part of a sole mold, (c) transferring the at least one outsole element from the transfer device to the first part and transferring the at least one supporting element from the transfer device to the second part of the sole mold, (d) filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles and (e) applying a medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

The claimed invention provides for the first time a highly efficient and automated method for the manufacture of shoe soles from particles. The positioning of the loaded transfer device with the two key elements for the final sole, namely the at least one outsole element and the at least one supporting element, adjacent the first part and the second part of a sole mold significantly simplifies the overall manufacture. In contrast to the prior art, the two elements no longer need to be manually arranged in the mold for the shoe sole. Also, there is no need for a plurality of automated production stations for the two elements. Moreover, the two elements can be automatically integrated and / or joined to the molded particle sole when in the final step (e) the medium, such as steam, is applied. Again, only a single production step is needed, which replaces an individual attachment of the outsole and / or the integration of the support element in manufacturing methods of the prior art. As a result, the overall cycle time and the labor costs are significantly reduced.

The step of loading the transfer device may comprise the steps of attaching the at least one outsole element to a first side of a transfer device, rotating the transfer device and attaching the at least one supporting element to a second side of the transfer device opposite to the first side.

Such an attachment of the two elements may further simplify their supply to the first and second part of the mold, in particular, if the transfer device is positioned between the first and the second part of the mold. Moreover, the footprint of the apparatus performing the described method may be reduced as the positioning of both, the outsole element and the support element can be jointly performed by a single transfer device.

In one embodiment, the attaching steps comprise suctioning the at least one outsole element and / or the at least one supporting element. In contrast to a mechanical attachment, a suctioning operation can be largely independent of the variances in product manufacturing tolerances of the individual item and additionally, in the context of shoe manufacture, the difference in dimensions due to the requirement for a range of different shoe sizes. This advantage facilitates the automated production of shoe soles.

In addition, a suctioning operation has the added advantage of improved attachment of flexible components, for example, a shoe outsole particularly when transferring flexible components into an accurately manufactured item, for example, a shoe mold. This advantage further facilitates the automated production of shoe soles, in particular, of shoe soles with different sizes. The step of transferring the at least one outsole element may comprise placing the at least one outsole element into at least one correspondingly shaped recess provided in the first part of the mold. Moreover, the step of transferring the at least one supporting element may further comprise placing the at least one supporting element in a holding element provided in the second part of the mold.

The recess and the holding element allow to securely position the two elements for the subsequent molding cycle. As a result, the steps of (d) filling the mold and (e) applying the medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element lead to a shoe sole with a correctly attached outsole element and a correctly integrated support element, without any adhesives having to be involved.

In one embodiment, the method further comprises the step of ejecting the molded shoe sole from the mold by means of ejecting devices integrated into the holding element for the supporting element. The ejecting means may support an automation of the molding process, as the manufactured sole may be automatically ejected after molding for further processing. The integration of the ejecting means into the holding element assures that there is apart from the holding element no further interference with the particles in the sole mold. In addition, no further robotic device is needed in this embodiment to remove the sole from the mold.

The first part and / or the second part may be moved to close the mold prior to the step of filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles. Accordingly, after providing the at least one outsole element and the at least one supporting element, the first and the second part of the sole mold may jointly form a closed mold into which the individual particles can be filled. Any loss of particles is therefore reliably avoided. Also the medium used to bond / fuse the particles may not escape, when being applied to the particles.

The method may further comprise the step of cooling the first part of sole mold when and / or after applying the medium.

The inventors have found that the step of bonding and / or fusing the particles with each other and to the at least one outsole element may require elevated temperatures, for example by using hot steam as a medium. However, if the at least one outsole element is subjected to higher temperatures it may start to deform or even melt, so that fine structures of for example the profile of the outsole element may be distorted or even fully lost. This problem can be avoided or at least reduced by cooling the first part of the sole in which the at least one outsole element is placed. Moreover, the cooling may allow to further shorten the overall cycle time so that in the end an even more efficient production of shoe soles may be achieved. The method may further comprise the steps of removing the formed shoe soles and curing the formed shoe soles under the influence of heat. The curing may be provided outside the mold which is advantageous as the time for curing may take significantly longer than the time for molding the shoe soles. A new molding cycle can therefore start long before the curing step is finished.

In one embodiment, the medium comprises steam. Advantageously, steam is not expensive, relatively easy to handle and provides the necessary temperature for the bonding and / or fusing process of certain types of particles among each other and with the outsole and / or the support element.

A further aspect of the invention is directed to an apparatus for automatically manufacturing shoe soles. In one embodiment, the apparatus comprises a transfer device adapted to be loaded with at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element, a robotic device adapted to position the loaded transfer device adjacent or even between a first part and a second part of a sole mold, wherein the robotic device is further adapted to transfer the at least one outsole element from the transfer device to the first part and to transfer the at least one supporting element from the transfer device to the second part of the sole mold, a particle supply adapted to fill the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles and a medium supply, the medium being adapted to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

In one embodiment, the apparatus comprises a first and a second part of the sole mold, wherein the two parts are movable by means of at least one linear guiding rod. Such an embodiment provides a very reliably and simply way for closing the two parts of the sole mold. Moreover, a linear closing movement of the two parts may be performed with comparatively high speed as the at least one guiding rod provides a high amount of directional stability. Again, the overall result is a reduction in cycle time as well as a minimum risk of operational problems during the automated manufacturing of shoe soles. Finally, according to another aspect the present invention is directed to a shoe sole manufactured by one of the above summarized methods and / or apparatuses and to a shoe comprising such a sole.

4. Short description of the figures

Possible embodiments of the present invention are further described in the following detailed description, with reference to the following figures:

Fig. 1: presents a schematic view of an embodiment of the present invention for the automated manufacturing of shoe soles;

Figs. 2a - 2b: present a first part and a second part of a sole mold for an apparatus according to an embodiment of the invention;

Fig. 3: presents a side view of an apparatus for the automated manufacturing of shoe soles according to the invention;

Fig. 4a: presents a schematic view of another embodiment of the present invention for the automated manufacturing of shoe soles; and

Fig. 4b: presents a detailed view of an embodiment according to another aspect of the present invention directed to an automated quality check of a manufactured shoe sole.

Detailed description of possible embodiments

Various embodiments of the present invention are described in the following detailed description. However, emphasis is placed on the fact that the present invention is not limited to these embodiments. The method described herein may be used for the manufacture of shoe soles in general, such as, for example, for sport shoes, casual shoes, lace-up shoes or boots such as working boots. It is also to be noted that individual embodiments of the invention are described in greater detail below. However, it is clear to the person skilled in the art that the design possibilities and optional features described in relation to these specific embodiments can be further modified and combined with one another in a different manner within the scope of the present invention and that individual steps or features can also be omitted where they appear to be unnecessary. In order to avoid redundancies, reference is made to the explanations in the previous sections, which also apply to the embodiments of the following detailed description. Fig. l presents a schematic view of an embodiment of a manufacturing apparatus 100 according to the invention for automatically manufacturing shoe soles, for example for a sport shoe. In the following, the operation of the apparatus 100 will be described.

The process starts with loading 107 a transfer plate 105 with at least one outsole element 110 and at least one supporting element 115. In the embodiment of Fig. 1, an exemplary number of six pieces of each element 110 and 115 are loaded onto the transfer plate 105. The geometry for arranging the elements 110 and 115 onto the transfer plate 105 may be selected freely depending on the available space. Moreover, the loading step 107 may be executed manually by workers and / or automatically by machines, e.g. robots.

In the embodiment of Fig. 1, the step of loading 107 the transfer device 105 comprises the step of attaching the outsole elements 110 to a first side of the transfer plate 105, rotating 150 the transfer plate 105 by means of a robot arm 122 and attaching the supporting elements to a second side of the transfer plate 105 opposite to the first side. Thus, the footprint of the apparatus 100 may be reduced as only a single transfer plate 105 is needed for the loading 107 of two types of elements for a plurality of shoe soles to be molded. In one embodiment (not shown), the transfer may be performed not by the transfer plate 105 but by a more complex transfer object, e.g. a cube with six adjacent sides, in order to increase the number of outsole and / or supporting elements that can be transferred to the sole molds in a single movement. In one embodiment, the attaching step may further comprise that the transfer plate 105 is adapted to suction the outsole elements 110 and / or the supporting elements 115. Once again, in contrast to a mechanical attachment, a suctioning operation can be largely independent of the variances in product manufacturing tolerances of the individual item and additionally, in the context of shoe manufacture, the difference in dimensions due to the requirement for a range of different shoe sizes. This advantage facilitates the automated production of shoe soles and particularly facilitates manufacture of shoe soles with different sizes. As a next step, the process includes a step 120 of moving the loaded transfer plate 105 by means of a robotic device 122 into a position between a plurality of first parts of a plurality of sole molds (not shown in Fig. 1) and a plurality of second parts 125 of the sole mold. The first parts and the second parts are described in more detail below with reference to Figs. 2a and 2b. While the transfer plate 105 is in the described

embodiment moved into a position between the pluralities of first and second parts, it is also conceivable to arrange the first and second parts initially in another

configuration, for example side by side, before the transfer of the outsole elements and the supporting elements from the transfer plate to the first and second sole parts takes place. As can be seen in Fig. 1, the schematic robotic device 122 comprises a rotatable arm, which may be moveable also in other directions so as to rotate or move the transfer plate in all three directions in space. In addition, it is also conceivable that the robotic device 122 may comprise other components such as additional arms for example for attaching a plurality of transfer plates 105. Fig. 1, also illustrates the subsequent step of transferring 127 the plurality of outsole elements 110 from the transfer plate 105 to the first parts (not shown in Fig. 1) of the sole molds and of transferring 127 the plurality of supporting elements 115 to the second parts 125 of the sole molds. For example, the robotic device 122 may move into the middle location in between the two parts. Between the two mold parts the robotic device configuration may be such that the transfer plate 105 moves linearly with respect to the mold surfaces. The transfer plate 105 may then move up to the first parts which may be fixed and may push the plurality of outsole elements 110 into the cavity. As the robotic device 122 positions the loaded transfer plate 105 with six outsole elements 110 and six supporting elements 115 between the first and second parts of the sole mold, the elements can be transferred at in a short amount of time into the corresponding first and / or second mold parts. Thus, the cycle time of the overall process is significantly reduced. In the embodiment of Fig. 1, the step of transferring 127 the at least one outsole element 110 further comprises placing the supporting elements 115 in a corresponding plurality of holding elements 160 (Fig. 2b shows an example of such a holding element 220 in more detail) provided in the second parts 125 of the molds. The outsole elements 110 may be placed into a plurality of correspondingly shaped recesses 235 (shown in Fig. 2a) provided in the first parts of the molds. It is apparent to the skilled person that the arrangement and the function of the first and the second parts of the sole molds could also be exchanged.

The holding elements 160 and recesses 235 allow to securely position the two types of elements for the subsequent molding for each process. As a result, the steps of filling 130 the mold with particles and applying 140 the medium provide a final shoe sole that comprises both, a correctly attached outsole element 110 and a correctly integrated support element 115. As can be seen, the whole process can be performed without any adhesives being involved.

The first and the second parts 125 are movable by a movement 170 to close the sole molds prior to a step 130 of filling each mold with a plurality of individual particles. In other words, the first and the second parts 125 of the sole molds provide a set of six mold cavities into which the individual particles can be filled. Advantageously, any loss of particles is therefore reliably avoided. Alternatively, only one part of the mold may be moveable. In the filling step 130, a high number of the particles may be supplied in a short amount of time so that the production cycle time is further reduced.

Each sole mold may comprise at least one first opening 240 arranged in one or in both parts of the sole mold for supplying the particles. In the embodiment of Fig. 2b, the first opening 240 is provided in the second part 210 of the mold. Providing more than one first opening may further accelerate the supply of the particles into the respective mold. In addition or alternatively, it is also conceivable that the first opening 240 could be provided simply by opening a gap between the two parts of the mold and filling the particles through the gap.

In one embodiment, the apparatus 100 may comprise moveable pins for ejecting the molded shoe soles (not shown in the Figures). For example two of such moveable pins may be integrated into the at least one first opening 240, alternatively or additionally two of such moveable pins may be integrated into each holding element 160. In a first position, the pins do not extend beyond the surface of the mold cavity and in a second position the moveable pins may extend out of the at least one first opening 240 or holding element 160 and thus push the manufactured sole out of the sole mold.

Alternatively or in addition, other means may be provided to remove the molded sole from the mold such as compressed air or even an automatic gripper employing, for example, electrostatic, sectional or mechanical gripping means. It should be evident that other gripping means known in the state of the art of automatic grippers can also be used.

In one embodiment, the particles may, for example, be made from an expanded material such as expanded thermoplastic polyurethane pellets (eTPU) or expanded polyamide pellets (ePA) or expanded polyetherblockamide pellets (ePEBA). It is also conceivable that any other appropriate material for the purpose of shoe midsole manufacture may be used. Furthermore, the expanded particles may be randomly arranged or with a certain pattern inside the mold.

As schematically shown in Fig. 1, a medium is supplied in a next step 140 by a medium supply 145 to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element 110. In contrast to the prior art, only a single production step is needed, which replaces an individual attachment of each outsole element 110 after the midsole manufacture. Moreover, the support element 115 can at the same time be automatically integrated into the sole made from the bonded / fused particles. As a result, the overall cycle time and the labor costs are reduced.

While many different types of media are conceivable, such as special chemicals or massless media such as electromagnetic radiation, the embodiment of Fig. 1 uses steam. Steam is inexpensive, easy to handle and provides the necessary temperature for the bonding and / or fusing process of certain types of particles, in particular the above mentioned particles from expanded thermoplastic polyurethane.

As can be seen in Fig. 2a, the first parts 200 comprise at least one recess 235 which may be correspondingly shaped to the at least one outsole element 110. In such an embodiment, the plurality of recesses 235 may be arranged so that they may form essentially the negative of a complete outsole. The outsole elements 110 may be placed by the robotic device 122 in the recesses of the first parts of the mold prior to the molding process with the particles.

The outsole elements 110 may be pre-manufactured, for example, by injection molding , compression molding, thermoforming or any other methods of converting 2D designs to 3D moldings as known to the skilled person in the art. Alternatively, the outsole elements 110 may at least partly be formed or molded in the first part 200 of the mold. For example, a raw strip of outsole material can be positioned in the mold, which is then heated during molding of the particles and only then assumes the final outsole shape and at the same time connects to the molded particles.

In the embodiment in Fig. 2a, each first part 200 of the molds comprise at least two second openings 250. The second openings 250 may be arranged adjacent to the recesses 235 to uniformly supply the medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other in order to form the midsole, wherein the midsole may be simultaneously connected to the outsole element 110 positioned in the mold. In the embodiment in Fig. 2a, the first part 200 comprises a means 260 for cooling the first part 200 of the mold and / or the outsole elements arranged therein. The means for cooling 260 may be small openings on the surface of the first part 200 which may be connected to channels providing a cooling medium such as cold air or a suitable liquid, for example, water. If the pre-manufactured outsole elements 110 are subjected to higher temperatures during molding the particles, they may start to deform or even melt, so that fine structures of for example the profile of the outsole elements may be distorted or even fully lost. This problem can be avoided or at least reduced by cooling the first part 200 of the sole mold in which the at least one outsole element 110 is placed. Moreover, this may also allow to further shorten the overall cycle time. In the embodiment in Fig. 2b, the second part 210 of the mold comprises a plurality of second openings 250 on the inner surface of the second part. The second openings 250 are arranged in an essentially regular pattern of elongated openings having a smaller length than the average size of the particles. Second openings 250 with such

dimensions allow on the one hand the medium such as steam to reach practically all particles of the sole to be molded. On the other hand, individual particles or even a plurality thereof are not left without support in the mold, so that an unintended expansion of such particles into a larger second opening is avoided, which could cause an uneven sole surface. In addition, less or no particles can leave the sole mold through the second openings 250. Moreover, the dense and regular pattern of second openings as shown in Fig. 2b may also provide a high quality of the molded particles as essentially the same amount of energy provided by the steam can be absorbed by the particles throughout the sole area.

Fig. 2b also shows an exemplary holding element 220 in the midfoot portion of the final sole. As mentioned before, the holding element allows to securely position a supporting element 115 in the second part. In the embodiment of Fig. 2b, this is achieved by two static, but somewhat elastic pins 230. The two static pins 230 are formed to match the shape of a central portion of the supporting element 115. It is also possible that only one or more than two pins may be arranged to fix a supporting element at a predetermined position inside the second part of the sole mold. This may depend on the specific shape of the supporting element 115. In any case, no adhesives are needed to integrate the supporting element 115 in the molded particle sole. Alternatively or in addition, the holding element 220 may be arranged in a heel portion and / or forefoot portion of the sole mold depending on the desired performance characteristics for the sole. In addition, it is also possible to provide a plurality of holding elements 220 in order to provide more than one supporting element 215 for the sole to be manufactured and thereby provide specific performance characteristics in certain parts of the sole.

Fig. 2a shows that the holding element 220 of the second part of the mold may have a corresponding counterpart 265 in the first part of the mold. This counterpart 265, may contribute to a secure positioning of the supporting element 215, when the mold is closed. In one embodiment, the first part 200 and / or the second part 210 of the mold may be partly or even completely manufactured by an additive manufacturing method. In a more specific embodiment, the additive manufacturing method may involve laser sintering. However, other additive manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, stereolithography (SLA), selective laser melting (SLM) or direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modeling (FDM), etc. can alternatively or in addition be used to make the two parts 200 and 210. The first part 200 and / or the second part 210 may comprise stainless steel alloys, stainless hot-work steels, precipitation hardening stainless steels, tool steels, aluminum alloys, titanium alloys, commercially pure titanium, hot-work steels, bronze alloys, nickel based alloys, cobalt based alloys, in particular, cobalt chromium tungsten alloys, copper alloys, precious metal alloys. Alternatively or in addition, any other material or a mixture of at least two materials may be used provided the material(s) have appropriate properties such as durability and / or conductivity Alternatively or in addition, any other material or a mixture of at least two materials may be used provided the material(s) have appropriate properties such as durability and / or conductivity of heat. Fig. 3 presents a side view of an apparatus 300 for the automated manufacturing of shoe soles according to the invention. The apparatus 300 may comprise one or more of the above explained features of the embodiment in Figs. 1 and 2a - 2b.

As can be seen in Fig. 3, the apparatus 300 also comprises a transfer plate 305 loaded with a plurality of outsole elements 310 and a plurality of supporting elements 315 on opposite sides of the transfer device 305. Moreover, the apparatus 300 comprises a robotic device 317 adapted to position in a step 320 the loaded transfer plate 305 between a first carrier 330 for a plurality of first parts of sole molds and a second carrier 340 for a plurality of second parts of sole molds. The first parts on the first carrier 330 and the second parts on the second carrier 340 are moveable in a step 335 by means of a plurality of linear guiding rods 350.

Such an embodiment provides a very reliably and simply way for closing the sole molds. If a larger number of first and seconds parts of the sole molds are attached to the two carriers in order to produce a higher number of shoe soles during each production cycle, the linear guiding rods 350 may provide an increased stability and precision for the overall apparatus 300. Moreover, a linear closing movement of the two parts 330 and 340 may be performed with comparatively high speed as the at least one guiding rod 350 provides a high amount of directional stability. Again, this allows to reduce the cycle time and to a more efficient manufacturing of shoe soles. In one embodiment, the apparatus 300 may further comprise a means for curing the formed shoe soles under the influence of heat (not shown). For example, after ejection by means of the above described ejection pins, the molded shoe soles may drop onto a conveyer belt that automatically take the soles to an oven. Here the soles may be cured, for example for several hours at an elevated temperature of more than 6o°C, preferably at 70°C. Heat may be provided to said oven by a variety of means, for example, conventional oven heating elements known in the state of the art, high frequency (HF) electromagnetic radiation, radio frequency (RF) radiation, microwave (MW) radiation or different electromagnetic radiation, or electromagnetic fields in general, for supplying heat energy. At the same time the apparatus 300 may continue to run through several additional production cycles - which may be as short as a few seconds - to mold further shoe soles. In other words, providing a separate curing station further increases the productivity of the molding process and the corresponding apparatus.

Fig. 4a presents a schematic view of another embodiment of a manufacturing system 400 for automatically manufacturing shoe soles, for example a sport shoe, performing a method as mentioned above and including one or more stations for automatically post processing. The manufacturing system 400 may comprise an apparatus 405 for the automated manufacture of shoe soles based on one or more of the above explained features of the embodiments in Figs. 1, 2a - 2b and 3.

The manufacturing system 400 may comprise a movable loading table 407 on which at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element may be arranged for the step of loading the transfer device of the apparatus 405, similar to the transfer device 305 of Fig. 3. For example, the movable loading table 407 may be loaded at floor level and then may rise vertically to the height of the transfer device so that the step of loading the transfer device may be performed. Moreover, the movable loading table 407 may be movable in other directions, for example in a horizontal direction. Thus, the manufacturing process may be simplified and the transfer device may be faster loaded so that the cycle time may be reduced.

In one embodiment, the manufacturing system 400 for automatically manufacturing shoe soles may comprise means for releasing (not shown in Fig. 4a) a first part of a mold comprising at least one recess as explained above, wherein the at least one recess may be shaped correspondingly to the at least one outsole element. Such means for releasing may be designed to enable quick or fast release to aid interchanging.

Additionally, or alternatively, the means for releasing may be designed in such a way to facilitate automated interchanging of the first part of the mold for different shoe sizes so that the overall cycle time for manufacturing a plurality of shoe soles may be reduced.

The manufacturing system 400 may comprise means for automated unloading of the molded shoe soles from the molds. For example, a robotic device using means for gripping, for example, vacuum grippers having plates being larger than the

manufactured shoe soles, may remove the molded shoe soles from the molds. The robotic device may slide vertically on a line in front of the molds. Additionally or alternatively, the robotic device may slide vertically and horizontally on a line in front of the molds. Moreover, there may be an end stop or end stops on the line to ensure, that the distance the robotic device can travel, can be controlled.

Moreover, the means for automated unloading of the molded shoe soles from the molds may comprise means for automatically detecting retained components, for example, outsole element or particles, in the molds. For example, a vision system comprising at least one camera may be used, wherein the vision system may comprise means for comparing at least one picture of the mold with at least one reference picture. The at least one reference picture may be provided from a database.

The manufacturing system 400 may comprise means for measuring the weight of the manufactured shoe sole, for example, a small weight scale to directly measure this weight. If the weight is within tolerances, then the manufactured shoe sole may be placed on a conveyer and may be conveyed to a curing station 410, for example, an oven. In this context, measuring the weight of the shoe at an early stage may be useful to give early indications of problems, for example, problems within the foamer for foaming the particles of the midsole.

As can be seen in Fig. 4a, the manufacturing system 400 may comprise at least one curing station 410 for curing a plurality of manufactured shoe soles, wherein the plurality of manufactured shoe soles may be placed onto a tray (not shown in Fig. 4a). Additionally or alternatively, the tray may comprise a means for tracking, for example, a tracking system code. After the step of curing, the tray may be removed from the at least one curing station 410, for example, by the means for automated unloading the molded shoe soles or another device, and may be placed on another conveyer to be taken to an automated quality check station 420 which will be explained in Fig. 4b. Additionally or alternatively, there may be a buffer on the conveyer to store one or more shoe soles, if the automated quality check station 420 is occupied.

After the automated quality check, the finished shoe soles may be stored in at least one storage station 430.

Fig. 4b presents a detailed view of an embodiment according to another aspect of the present invention directed to a method for an automated quality check of a

manufactured shoe sole.

In one embodiment, the method comprises the steps of (a.) generating a three- dimensional scan of the shoe sole and (b.) comparing the result of the three- dimensional scan with stored design data. The three-dimensional scan and the step of comparing which may be performed automatically by one or more entities, may significantly reduce the overall cycle time. This advantage facilitates the automated production of shoe soles.

In some embodiments, the three-dimensional scan may be generated while moving the shoe sole. Additionally or alternatively, the scanner may also be moved around the shoe sole. Both options follow the same idea that the whole shoe sole or component is carefully imaged. Moreover, the method may further comprise the step of taking at least one picture of the non-moving shoe sole. All these options follow the same idea of further significantly reducing the cycle time and reducing labor costs whilst performing the quality check and increasing repeatability, and precision.

Moreover, the step of comparing may be directed to identify physical and visible defects on one or more areas of the shoe sole, for example, unfused or excessively fused particles, dirt or foreign matter in / on the shoe sole etc. In some embodiments, the method may comprise the step of measuring the weight of the shoe sole and / or measuring at least one key dimension of the shoe sole. Thus, dynamic properties such as cushioning, stiffness or flexing properties of the

manufactured shoe sole may also be automatically investigated. In one embodiment, the method further comprises the step of providing a means for tracking the shoe sole, preferably a quick response, QR, code. Thus, different information about the shoe sole (e.g. material properties, shape, density, melting temperature, etc.) may be obtained by reading the QR code. It is also conceivable that any other code may be used such as UPC code, Micro QR code, Secure QR-code, iQR- Code or Frame QR, etc. or any other means for tracking such as RFID-Tags, transponders, etc.

In some embodiments, the method may further comprise the step of automatically storing the compared shoe sole in a storage station. It should be noted that each step as mentioned herein may be automated or performed automatically. The term

"automated" or "automatically" designates a process, which occurs with a reduction in, or a complete removal of, human intervention.

According to another aspect, the present invention is directed to a system for an automated quality check of a manufactured shoe sole performing a method according to one of the preceding embodiments. Moreover, the system for an automated quality check of a manufactured shoe sole may be integrated into a system for automatically manufacturing shoe soles. Furthermore, both systems may be arranged in a common facility. For example, the quality check system may be arranged next to one or more other stations of the system for automatically manufacturing shoe soles in the common facility (which could be a factory but also a reserved space in a retail store). Additionally or alternatively, the system for an automated quality check of a manufactured shoe sole may be arranged in another facility and the checked manufactured shoe soles may be then transported to the facility where the system for automatically manufacturing shoe soles is placed to perform steps of further processing.

Referring now to Fig. 4b and as mentioned above, the method for an automated quality check of a manufactured shoe sole comprising randomly arranged particles may be performed by the automated quality check station 420 of the system 400. In the following, the operation of the automated quality check station 420 of the system 400 will be described.

It should be noted that any other arrangement of different parts of the automated quality check station 420 explained in the following is also conceivable. The process starts that the shoe sole 421 enters the automated quality check station 420 via a conveying means.

As a next step, the shoe sole 421 is imaged by an image capture device 423, for example, a camera. The image capture device may take a single image of the shoe sole, for example, a two-dimensional picture. However, it is also possible that the image capture device takes multiple images and furthermore that the at least one image may comprise three-dimensional information, for example, by using at least two cameras to provide contour information of the surface(s).

After taking the at least one image of the shoe sole 421, a robot device 424, equipped with gripping means, for example, needle grippers, picks up the shoe sole 421 to move the shoe sole to a further scanning area. The shoe sole may be moved directly to the scanning area by the robot or the robot may place the shoe sole onto an intermediate transport means, for example, conveying means 425 such as a conveyor belt. A three- dimensional scan is generated by a scanning unit 426. This may be done while the shoe sole 421 is static or when the shoe sole is moved over the scanning area. In one embodiment, the scanning unit 426 may also comprise an image capture device (similar to the picture capture device 423) and a laser scanner. Other means for generating three-dimensional scans of the shoe sole 421 known in the prior art may be also used.

The scanning unit 426 images the shoe sole in order to provide a visual and physical check of the product. For this purpose, the result of the three-dimensional scan is compared with stored design data. For example, the stored design data may comprise a basic picture standard stored as a preset within the automated quality check station 420. This basic picture standard is compared with the three-dimensional scan and / or with the at least one picture from the surface(s) of the shoe sole 421 to provide an opinion of the quality of the shoe sole 421 to check if the shoe sole 421 is faulty or not. Additionally or alternatively, the automated quality check station 420 may comprise a machine learning unit (not shown) so that the station 420 may learn and improve its basic picture standards. Therefore, the step of comparing may be improved. The machine learning unit may use self-learning algorithms and models or may use the confirmation/declination of the opinion of the surface(s) by an external expert to state whether the shoe sole 421 is or isn't acceptable made. As a next step, the shoe sole may be directly moved to the scanning area by the robot

424 or the robot 424 may place the shoe sole onto an intermediate transport means, for example, conveying means 425 such as a conveyor belt for transporting the shoe sole to the scale and a balance unit 427 to measure the weight of the shoe sole 421 and / or at least one key dimension of the shoe sole, for example, the length of the shoe sole 421.

In one embodiment, a means for tracking the shoe sole 421, for example, a QR code as mentioned above, may be provided on the shoe sole 421. For example, the information of the QR code may be created once the shoe sole 421 has been arranged within the foamer for foaming the particles of the midsole so that this information may identify the shoe sole 421 in the automated quality check station 420 and in the whole manufacturing system 400.

The shoe sole 421 may be automatically stored in the storage station 430. It is possible that the quality check station 420 ends in the storage unit. Furthermore, it is also possible that the shoe soles may be directly moved to the storage area 430 by a robot or the shoe soles are transported to the storage unit 430 by an intermediate transport means, for example, conveying means 425 such as a conveyor belt. The shoe sole 421 may then be stored according to the information of the QR code.

In one embodiment, the at least one storage station 430 may comprise a plurality of storage boxes (not shown) comprising an electronic means, for example, RFID chips, to store the details of the shoe sole 421. Each storage box may be equipped with two shoe soles 421 corresponding to a finished pair of shoes. The storage boxes may slide out of the storage station 430 to be taken and stored elsewhere or in another storage box 430. Moreover, the means for tracking may be used to derive information during further processing steps or stages, for example, customization.

In the following, further embodiments are described to facilitate the understanding of the invention:

1. Method for automated manufacturing of shoe soles comprising the steps of: a. loading a transfer device with at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element;

b. positioning the loaded transfer device adjacent a first part and a second part of a sole mold;

c. transferring the at least one outsole element from the transfer device to the first part and transferring the at least one supporting element from the transfer device to the second part of the sole mold;

d. filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles; and

e. applying a medium to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

2. Method according to embodiment 1, wherein the transfer device is in step b. positioned between a first part and a second part of a sole mold.

3. Method according to the preceding embodiments 1 or 2, wherein the step of loading the transfer device comprises the steps of:

attaching the at least one outsole element to a first side of a transfer device; rotating the transfer device; and

attaching the at least one supporting element to a second side of the transfer device opposite to the first side.

Method according to the preceding embodiment 3, wherein the steps of attaching comprises suctioning the at least one outsole element and / or the at least one supporting element.

Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 4, wherein the step of transferring the at least one outsole element comprises placing the at least one outsole element into at least one correspondingly shaped recess provided in the first part of the mold.

Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 5, wherein the step of transferring the at least one supporting element comprises placing the at least one supporting element in a holding element provided in the second part of the mold.

Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 6, further comprising the step of ejecting the molded shoe sole from the mold by means of ejecting devices integrated into the holding element for the supporting element.

Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 7, wherein the first part and / or the second part are moved to close the mold prior to the step of filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles.

Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 8, further comprising the step of cooling the first part of sole mold when and / or after applying the medium. Method according to one of the preceding embodiments 1 - 9, further comprising the steps of:

removing the formed shoe soles; and

curing the formed shoe soles under the influence of heat. Method according to one of the preceding embodiments l - 10, wherein the medium comprises steam.

Apparatus for automated manufacturing of shoe soles, comprising:

a. a transfer device adapted to be loaded with at least one outsole element and at least one supporting element;

b. a robotic device adapted to position the loaded transfer device adjacent a first part and a second part of a sole mold;

c. wherein the robotic device is further adapted to transfer the at least one outsole element from the transfer device to the first part and adapted to transfer the at least one supporting element from the transfer device to the second part of the sole mold;

d. a particle supply adapted to fill the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles; and

e. a medium supply, the medium being adapted to bond and / or fuse the particles with each other and with the at least one outsole element.

Apparatus according to the preceding embodiment 12, wherein the robotic device is adapted to position the loaded transfer device between the first and the second part of the sole mold.

Apparatus according to embodiment 12 or 13, wherein the transfer device is adapted to be loaded with the at least one outsole element and the at least one supporting element on opposite sides of the transfer device. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 14, wherein the transfer device is adapted to suction the at least one outsole element and / or the at least one supporting element. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 15, wherein the robotic device is adapted to place the at least one outsole element into at least one correspondingly shaped recess provided in the first part of the mold. 17. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 16, wherein the robotic device is adapted to place the at least one supporting element in a holding element provided in the second part of the mold. 18. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 17, further

comprising a first part and a second part of the sole mold, wherein means for ejecting the molded shoe soles are integrated into the holding element of the second part. 19. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 18, wherein the first part and / or the second part are movable to close the mold prior to filling the sole mold with a plurality of individual particles.

20. Apparatus according to embodiment 19, wherein the first and / or the second part are moveable by means of at least one linear guiding rod.

21. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 20, further

comprising a means for cooling the first part of sole mold. 22. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 21, further

comprising a means for curing the formed shoe soles under the influence of heat after removal from the sole mold.

23. Apparatus according to one of the preceding embodiments 12 - 22, wherein the medium supply is adapted to supply steam.

24. Sole manufactured with a method according to one of the preceding

embodiments 1 - 11. 25. Shoe comprising a shoe sole according to embodiment 24.