OLT Footcare aims to bring custom foot orthotics to clinics using 3D printing and iPhone's Face ID

Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: OLT Footcare

OLT Footcare (TDL Systems), a Canadian foot orthotics manufacturer based out of Windsor, Ontario, is looking to bring its custom manufacturing solutions to even more markets. Utilizing the 3D scanning capability of the iPhone's Face ID function, OLT Footcare allows podiatrists to 3D print foot orthotics in-clinic and receive the product within hours.

In an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, OLT Footcare Founder and CEO Yong Li stated that the company was part of a program with the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. It's through NRC that it got in contact with the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) in Taiwan.

OLT Footcare (TDL Systems) was founded back in 2014. It currently has 10 employees. So far, the company's systems have been installed in clinics in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, China, Japan, and Malaysia, and have served over 50,000 patients. In 2022, the company hit CAD 1 million (US$740,000) in revenue, a 42% annual increase compared to 2021.

The foot orthotics market

The foot orthotics market is a major one in North America. There are around 16,000 podiatrists (medical professionals who treat disorders of the foot, ankle, and leg) in North America alone. On average, each podiatrist sees about 20 to 30 patients per day, meaning there could be nearly 7,920 patients annually for each podiatrist.

A common way for podiatrists to treat their patients is via orthotics, an externally applied device to provide support or correction. Traditionally, orthotics are produced by labs. The issue with this method is the long turnaround time, which typically is around 14 days. This makes doing minor adjustments and changes a hassle for doctors and patients.

OLT's solution alleviates this problem by taking the orthotics production in-clinic via 3D printing. The company utilizes the Face ID function that's available on iPhone models after the iPhone X to create a 3D scan of the patient's foot. Then, using a design software developed in-house by OLT Footcare, the scan result can then be 3D printed into a custom orthotic.

OLT uses two types of base materials for its 3D-printed foot orthotics: nylon and Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU). Nylon is for heavier patients, while TPU is for patients with more sensitive feet. Both materials have been proven to have long product life cycles. According to Li, OLT's nylon foot orthotic hasn't had a break reported in eight years, while its TPU sandal passed a bending cycle of 100,000 times without a break.

There are several factors behind why OLT was able to bring 3D printing orthotics to the doctors' clinics. First, the hardware is very affordable. The scanner portion utilizes the function of a common device (the iPhone), so all the doctors need is a specialized mirror attachment made by OLT that costs around US$45. It also works with existing foot scanners, as long as they can output the correct file format.

As with the 3D printing portion, the company has collaborated with a 3D printer manufacturer to make a custom printer that's available for US$2000, a relatively low price for a 3D printer. For clinics that really couldn't afford to purchase a 3D printer, they can either lease a printer for $200 a month or OLT has a service to do the printing for them. However, according to Li, 90% of clinics have elected to print themselves.

The other factor is that OLT offers its software for free. Li stated that 3D printers and scanners are widely available. The biggest hurdle for utilizing them in foot orthotics is producing a 3D printable file. OLT has managed to do that with its custom software. Despite offering the software for free, OLT charges a data processing fee for every pair of orthotics produced, making this the main source of revenue for the company.

The benefit of OLT's method is that because the 3D printing is done in-clinic, the turnaround time is reduced to five hours instead of 14 days. The cost to make an orthotic is also lowered from US$100 to US$30. This makes it much easier to do minor adjustments since the cost and wait times are shortened significantly. Another major advantage is that because this method uses 3D printing, there's no longer the need to create singular-use CNC mold, leading to much less waste.

The next step

OLT Footcare is also going beyond just making traditional foot orthotics. The company is now producing orthotic sandals. Li stated that this idea came up when a doctor in Malaysia approached them. The doctor told them that because the weather is so hot, many patients don't even wear shoes 60% of the time. Without shoes, foot orthotics don't work as well. To address this issue, OLT Footcare combined orthotics with shoes to produce orthotic sandals. Sandals are selected due to heat being part of the issue and can be more easily produced via 3D printing.

For the short term, OLT Footcare is seeking retail and medical partners, especially shoe store partners that can help the sales of its orthotic sandals. As with its long-term goal, they want to be a player in all major markets. North America is the region where OLT is focused on right now. However, OLT is actively expanding into other regions.

Photo: OLT Footcare founder and CEO Yong Li.

Photo: OLT Footcare founder and CEO Yong Li.
Credit: OLT Footcare