When Elaine Ng returned to Hong Kong after a couple months in the United States, she arrived with a vision that would soon change the medical footwear industry. The certified pedorthist realised there was a lack of services to create corrective footwear to relieve the aching knees, fallen arches and sore heels that afflict many people. So she set out to establish a Hong Kong version of the service provided by her former US employer - a company that uses the latest computer technology to assess feet and create custom-built foot orthoses. 'We solve bio-mechanical problems of the feet,' she said. 'We design and fabricate and fit foot orthoses and footwear to relieve symptoms of foot and other diseases such as arthritis and diabetes. It's like an insole custom-made for correction.' The company she founded in 1997, Pedorthic Technology, recorded sales of $700,000 in its first year of operation. Last year, the firm recorded 5,000 customers and sales of $2 million, giving it a dominant share of a new industry. 'Our market potential is huge because a lot of people have this problem,' Ms Ng said, predicting sales to rise by 20 per cent a year. 'Our growth depends on marketing and education and how many people know the difference between custom-made foot orthotics and off-the-shelf versions.' The company's strong impact was recognised with a New SME Silver Award. Judges cited its rapid commercial success and innovative technology. But the company's future was not always so bright. In fact, Pedorthic Technology hit a major technical snag at the very beginning, Ms Ng said. 'Three years ago I went to Germany to buy a CAD/CAM [computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing] system, but I couldn't find one that fitted our requirements,' she said. To get around the problem, Ms Ng decided the company would build the technology in Hong Kong using local talent. With technical support and a financial commitment of $1 million from the Industry Department, the hi-tech machine was ready for commercial roll-out by late 1997. Called the EPAD Foot Laser Scanner, it won a Certificate of Merit in 1998 in the Hong Kong Award for Industry. Ms Ng said that in the early stages she began to tinker with the company's business model and eventually settled on a service structure catering to both doctor referrals and walk-in clientele. Patients have their feet scanned and the data is then sent by modem to the company's labs in Tsuen Wan. A computer-controlled manufacturing process then creates the 'positive' foot mould using a mill process for polypropylene materials or a mould process for carbon-fibre materials. Ms Ng describes the company's services as 'a total solution provider for pedorthics'. In the near future, the company will diversify its operations to include specially-designed shoes for children and add to its line of casual corrective wear. To raise the profile of its health- related service, Ms Ng said her company had formed a joint venture with a publishing firm to produce Eduhealth - a health and fitness publication.