Just because we’ve been making shoes and boots since 1905 doesn’t mean we can’t change our ways every now and then. After all, you don’t last as long as we have if you don’t improve. One area in which we’ve made some changes is in our leather cutting department. For most of our history, the individual pieces of Red Wing leather that make up a boot are cut out using metal templates and a pressure stamping machine. A worker eyes up a leather hide and figures out the most efficient way to get the most pieces out of it with minimal waste, while avoiding the blemished and imperfect sections. It’s a method that’s worked well since the beginnings. While many steps in our process of boot-making can’t be done by machines, at Red Wing Shoe Company we also try to embrace technology when contributing to the quality of the process or footwear.
The Comelz machine is a computer-guided leather cutting machine that we use for some of our types of boots. With a template of all the pieces needed for a particular size and type of boot, the machine helps a worker line up the optimum arrangement of cuts that will maximize the hide and minimize waste. Lighted shapes dance on the leather surface as the worker moves them around, locking in his choices with the click of a button. When the hide has been digitally marked, it slides into the cutter and two precision heads descend and cut out the pieces needed, leaving only a thin web of scrap leather. This process takes advantage of technology while still relying on the human element that has been our trademark for over a century. Using the Comelz leather cutting machine has resulted in less waste and faster production, which goes to show that sometimes to make a process better, cutting corners can be a good thing.