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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Caleb Waugh, right, and Eric Radford, students at BYU, on Tuesday demonstrate how the computer software produces a pin mold that is later used to make a customized foot insole in a fraction of the time it now takes.

PROVO — While none of the inventions include a cheaper fuel, one group of engineering students at Brigham Young University did come up with a viable option for today's high gas prices: shoe insoles.

A team of BYU undergraduate engineering students, sponsored by a Utah entrepreneur, has created a quicker process for making custom insoles.

Millions of Americans wear insoles, also known as orthotics, for extra arch support or to compensate for an injury or disability.

"This product is going to revolutionize the orthotics industry," said student Keith Stolworthy, 22, of Henderson, Nev., a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.

The insole machine creates the product in 30 minutes.

Currently, it can take up to two weeks for people to get an insole. The old process includes making a digital image or plaster mold of the customer's foot, then sending it to a lab where the insole is made by hand or with a milling machine, then sent back for final fitting.

More time is required if a refitting is needed.

"If you're in pain, you don't want to wait," Stolworthy said.

The BYU students' invention is a portable workstation that can be placed in a podiatrist's office or made available to athletic footwear stores or ski outfitters.

The insole machine was one of 24 "capstone" projects presented Tuesday on BYU campus. The presentations show a year's work for BYU's senior mechanical engineering students.

Each capstone project is funded with an educational grant of $20,000 from an industry sponsor. This year's total budget was $480,000, said capstone director Robert Todd.

The funding goes toward hardware, as well as industry and faculty coaches, Todd said. "The students are paid in education," he said.

The "Sole Orthotic Solutions" team was funded by Brent and Leslie Johnson of Elk Ridge.

Leslie Johnson said the idea came about because of their 14-year-old son who has cerebral palsy. While living in Europe for five years, she was able to get custom-fit shoes for her son.

But after returning to the states, she was disappointed at the options.

Brent Johnson, who has an MBA and a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, went through a two-week intensive training program where he learned how to make orthotics. He discovered it a was a long, intensive process.

"That spurred the vision," Leslie Johnson said.

The sole-team students spent 25 to 30 hours per week since September brainstorming, researching, and testing. "And they do lots of prototypes," said Ken Hardman, a Boeing engineer and part-time BYU engineering instructor. He coached the insole team.

A computerized image is taken of the customer's foot by using a pressure pad. With software written by the team, a precision device reproduces the shape of the foot on a "pin mold," which looks like a bed of nails.

A vacuum system then forms a heated slab of plastic around the mold, producing a finished product.

The students aren't disclosing potential prices of the future insoles but say the product will be cost-effective.

E-mail: astewart@desnews.com