Keen Utility American Built - How Are Keen Utility Work Boots Made News & Opinion

How Are Keen Utility Work Boots Made?


Keen invited us out to Portland, Oregon for a look inside their production facilities. For anyone who has ever asked the question “How are Keen Utility work boots made?”, it’s a fascinating process. Not all Keen Utility boots are made in this facility. However, workers are cranking out 420,000 pair this year. Think that’s a lot? They’re not even close to full capacity. This facility is capable of producing 1 million pair as demand continues to grow.

There are three main ways of connecting shoe and boot uppers to the midsoles and outsoles. Cement construction uses a glue. While this maintains a lot of flexibility, it’s also the lightest duty. On the other side of the spectrum is welting. Welting is the oldest and most traditional way of bringing the shoe together through stitching. It’s the heaviest duty method, but trades off some flexibility. In the middle is direct attachment. This uses a chemical bond between that’s both strong and flexible as well as cost efficient. By far the most popular medium is polyurethane. The Keen Utility facility we toured is geared to make that connection.

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Keen is a leader when it comes to polyurethane on a coupe of fronts. First, they partnered with BASF to work on a blend specifically geared for use in their premium boots. Second, they brought the polyurethane back to US soil – something that no one else in the industry thought was financially possible. Keen opened some eyes though, and manufactures outside the footwear industry are beginning to look at following the lead.

There are plenty of other stories to tell here as well from renovating an entire building with recycling and repurposing that led to just one dumpster of trash for the landfill to Keen’s American Built program that uses the finest global materials and brings them back to the US for construction. Environmental responsibility and employing Americans are both great stories, but they don’t mean a whole lot if the end product doesn’t hold up.

So Just How Are Keen Utility Work Boots Made?

2D and 3D modeling takes place before samples are made. #KeenUtility #workboots #playatwork

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

It all starts with design. From the a product engineer’s mind comes a potential boot that turns into computer drawings where all kinds of theoretical testing takes place before the first piece of leather is ever cut.

Some hand cutting takes place, but using #Photoshop Illustrator, #lasercutting is a huge advantage for precision.

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

A new concept is sliced out using a laser cutter connected to Photoshop Illustrator. We were just shown using a sheet of paper, but leather is the more likely to be found on most days.

#Design without a #3DPrinter? Not likely! #KeenUtility can make up to a size 9 outsoles on this one. #workboots

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3D printing takes place in more manufacturing facilities every day. It allows the Innovation Team to produce samples in a few hours to begin looking at the physical reality of what they’ve created.

In the #Fabrication Lab, there's a lot of creation to go from concept pieces to what you see in stores. #KeenUtility

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Fabrication Lab is where samples can be put together – everything from simple leather sandals to work boots, backpacks, and more.

'Nuff said, #KeenUtility.

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

We all think it every day – Keen Utility’s Innovation department simply chooses to put everyone on notice when they walk through the door.

50,000 flexes are used to prove the ability of #KeenUtility #workboots to remain #waterproof.

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Once the concept is deemed sound and physical samples look solid, initial Keen Utility work boots are created and begin going through a series of tests required for ASTM certification. This test ensures the design is waterproof through 50,000 simulated steps. Other instruments and machines test the safety toes for impact and compression, outsoles for environmental degradation and puncture spread, and the hooks for failure tension.

Complete uppers come in from overseas. #KeenUtility controls the entire #QC process. #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Once it’s time to put the new boots into production, uppers are sewn together while outsoles are produced mainly in Thailand. They all come to the warehouse where they will be put together and go through their final quality control checks.

First up is finishing. Backwards? Nope. This gives #KeenUtility #boots their shape before adding outsoles.

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Before anything else, the finishing process takes place. That may seem backwards, but it’s just the uppers that are being finished. They are first steamed, then placed on this device to get the proper shape. Each size has a custom mold so you’re getting the classic Keen fit no matter how big your feet are.

The outsoles are placed in the dyes and the roughing is checked by #human eyes. #KeenUtility #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

A robot quickly roughs the edges of each boot where the polyurethane will bond to the upper. A worker physically checks the work and places each outsole in a dye for direct attachment.

Uppers and outsoles are heated in preparation for #polyurethane midsole injection. #KeenUtility #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Both outsole and upper are heated to prepare them for the chemical bonding with polyurethane that will become the midsole.

#Polyurethane is injected to create a midsole that is chemically bonded to both upper and outsole. #KeenUtility

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

A machine precisely places the upper and outsole while polyurethane is injected between them to form the midsole. Polyurethane is used because it offers cushioning that will last much longer than the EVA foam found in athletic shoes. EVA compresses and can lead to injuries if used too long.

Excess #polyurethane will have to be trimmed by hand. #KeenUtility #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Once it’s had a few minutes to cool off, excess polyurethane has to be trimmed. This will be done by hand and is then sent through a cooling station to help slow down the chemical reactions still taking place.

Any imperfections around the bonds are nipped off before the final stages. #KeenUtility #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

Any imperfections left at this stage will be handled by workers who nip off the leftover bits of polyurethane.

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An extra water based oil/wax treatment is applied in case the heating and cooling affected it. #KeenUtility

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

All Keen Utility work boots get a new coating of leather treatment. This water-based wax/oil treatment is used whether it looks like the boots need it or not just in case the heating and cooling process drew any out. Treating the leather is an important step during production and after the sale in getting your boots to last a long time.

Insoles are added before the final #QC checks and packaging. #KeenUtility #workboots

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

The last step of production is to insert the appropriate insoles into each boot before sending it off for its final two quality control checks and packaging.

At the end of the line, #KeenUtility #workboots are ready to be packed in boxes of 6 and head to #distribution.

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

At the end of the line, these Braddock Low Soft Toes are ready to be boxed into groups of six and sent off to distribution centers before they are on the feet of users like me. Seriously –  this is the exact model I wear.

#KeenUtility #boots from raw upper to finished and waiting for the soles to complete.

Posted by Pro Tool Reviews on Thursday, July 14, 2016

From raw upper to complete boot, each step of the process is important to giving the Keen Utility boots the look, feel, and durability user expect from premium footwear.

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