While much of shoe manufacturing is still done by hand, there are some processes that benefit from the latest high tech equipment. One of those is the cutting of leather and fabric for the upper and lining. An electronic version of a pattern is transferred to our computerized laser-cutting machines. The highly skilled machine operator has gone through a minimum of 90 days of training before being able to solo on this very expensive, state of the art machine. But it’s not just about understanding how to program and run the machine – really mastering this job entails knowing the subtle properties of leather and its different characteristics depending on its location in the hide. Different parts of the shoe must be cut from different sections of the hide to insure performance integrity: the vamp is the top part of the shoe, and while you need it to stretch a little so it can be pulled over the last, it cannot stretch too much lengthwise or the shoe will not keep its proper shape when it goes to lasting. Because of the difference in the amount of stretch in different sections of a hide, some parts must be cut from the middle of the leather hide while other parts must be cut from the outside edge.
The leather and linings are cut using a computerized laser-cutter. The cutting surface is felted so the leather (or other material) will stay in place without moving.
Here the operator carefully examines the leather to get the most yield and least amount of waste, while placing it onto the cutting surface.
The cutting machine has been pre-programmed with the pattern for the leather footbed cover of the Solar sandal. In these two pictures the operator selects the piece(s) to cut and precedes to layout the pattern on the leather for the laser cutter.
The laser cutter is engaged. Two arms work in unison and cut the material simultaneously. The side by side cutters improve our production speed and allow us to react quickly to our customer’s needs.
The cut leather hide moves through the machine to the other side where another worker begins to remove the pieces to combine into groups of 5, 10, or 20 pair (called case packs) for production.
This is one of our most experienced operators. Notice that she has different materials on her table to be cut. While the laser cutter is working on the shiny material for the Solar sandal strap’s circles, the operator is laying out the pattern for her next job, which is cutting the lining.
Computerized laser-cutting machines help to decrease material waste and speed the production process. We’ll explore the hand crafted operations of shoe making in future posts.