July 31, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to the intersection of  innovation and manufacturing technologies, companies that have continued to break down walls year after year are among those still standing the strongest today in the business landscape.  

Among others, Nike has shown how innovation helps sell products since long before Apple or many other tech companies came along; some of the company’s earliest technologies such as Nike Air are still among the hottest selling products that the sportswear giant produces.  Unsurprisingly, the company even has ‘secret labs’ where the majority of these  innovations and manufacturing technologies converge, specifically the “Innovation Kitchen” and the “Nike Sports Research Lab (NSRL)” - both of which are behind locked doors at the company’s Beaverton, Oregon World Headquarters.  

More recently, a group of designers from the company turned to 3D printing to develop a next-generation cooling system for U.S. Olympic champion and decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton.  Because the decathlon is made up of ten events, any perceivable advantage that can be had between each of the events to speed up recovery time can have a significant impact on the athlete’s overall performance.     

“A perfect scenario would be to feel like you’ve just started on every event. The more you do, the more attrition you experience. Rather than realizing immediate physiological gain, the challenge is more about reducing the mental attrition from the two days to maximize each event,” explains Eaton. “After asking questions about current recovery techniques, the conversation prompted me to ask myself: Why does it feel good, after running, to pour a bottle of water over your head? I don’t know the physiological answer, but the fact that it does feel better makes me perform better. ”

With the goal of creating as much of a ‘perfect scenario’ as possible for Eaton, the Nike team expanded upon a concept that they originally created in 2004 for cooling an athlete’s core - the PreCool Vest - to create a device that could cool Eaton's head and face during a live competition.

Among other advantages of cooling the head and face,  they have two to five times more sensitivity than other body surface areas, which makes it an ideal location for attempting to lower an athlete’s overall body temperature - especially when time is of the essence.  

Spurred by Eaton’s desire for an “ice hat”, the Nike team developed what is now known as the first prototype for a cooling hood to advance research around the physiological advantages of head cooling.  

Of course, no two head shapes are the same and to ensure that the prototype would fit Eaton’s head perfectly, the design team at Nike turned to 3D scanning and 3D printing to create an accurate 1:1 replica of Eaton’s head for developing the hood.   

“The insight Ashton gave us was that overheating was a challenge, especially during the high jump and pole vault when there was so much time spent on the field, and he asked how we could speed up his recovery between his short, explosive action. It was an interesting challenge coming directly from one of the world’s greatest athletes so we, literally, took the challenge head-on,” says Sandy Bodecker, VP of Special Projects, Nike Innovation.

“Nike’s culture is one of invention and this is invention with purpose: making athletes better,” he adds. “Working collaboratively with the best athletes means faster problem solving and allows us to bring the future, faster.”

In order to cool the head, inner layers are designed to retain cool water without leaking from the hood.  Simultaneously, a structural frame around the eyes keeps cold portions in place and close to the face while maintaining a secure fit.

“Simply put, the hood concentrates a cold mass out of an icebox, covering the face, head and neck, and allows a gradual and effective cooling of the head,” explains Bodecker.

“This is innovation in the making. We continue to work with Ashton on each iteration of the hood, and we plan to perfect this idea as we approach the next 18 months of elite track and field competition,” adds Bodecker.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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