Mar 17, 2016 | By Alec

The 2016 Summer Olympics are just around the corner, with a massive number of 306 events scheduled in Rio de Janeiro in August. Athletes everywhere will be nervously preparing for what could be the biggest moment of their lives, and not a few will be wondering if their equipment is up to par. After all, it’s not just about skill anymore in 2016 – the right pair of shoes and the right grip can make a key millisecond difference that could be just what you need to win. That’s exactly why America’s track and field sprint star Allyson Felix has been collaborating with Nike on a pair of spiked shoes that, with the help of 3D printing, will provide the best possible grip.

Allyson Felix (1985) is, of course, one of the athletes who will be carrying the hopes of the nation on her shoulders in several events. Competing in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters sprint, she is usually one of the favorites in all of those specialisms whenever she competes. She won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 on the 200 meters and is the 2015 world champion at 400 meters, among others. She also won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics for 4 x 400 meters women's relay, and one at the 4 x 100 meters women’s relay in 2012.

She will be looking to add to those amazing records in Rio, and like no other she knows that an athlete’s control of the track’s curve can made all the difference between first and second place. To address that challenge, she has been working together with Nike on this unusual 3D printing project, with the aim of developing the best possible spike for the 200 and 400 meter sprints. Through extensive engineering, this resulted in the gorgeous Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit shoe, visible above and below.

As the Nike engineers reveal, this fascinating shoe is the result of extensive scientific analysis from Nike’s Sports Research Lab (NSRL), where the designers worked with Flyknit engineers on computational design. Felix herself was also extensively involved in the process, by providing perception testing and feedback. Through that process, the team precisely adapted the spike’s key elements of strength, fit and flex to match the athlete’s biomechanics.

Of course, the shoe was also perfectly tailored to fit Felix’s size 9.5, AA-width feet. To ensure that the spike’s plate met all of her preferences – a balance of flexibility and pop – they extensively prototyped it through 3D printing. Specifically, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology was used to greatly speed up prototyping, enabling almost immediate feedback and alterations. This also enabled them to find a design that reduces volume and weight as much as possible, while extending the sprint spike to three-quarter height – which supports a larger portion of the foot during motion.

It was an extensive process that required multiple fittings, with the first taking place back in May 2014. Overall, thirty spike plate versions were produced, while the Flyknit upper was tweaked over 70 times before the engineers were confident they had perfectly captured the athlete’s wishes. Felix, of course, was over the moon with the results and the help she received. “One of the things that I love about the process is that I'm not an expert in this, but I have all this science behind me. This is what [Nike] does and this is what they're passionate about,” says Felix. “I can have confidence that they're [giving] me the best equipment.”

Tony Bignell, Nike’s VP Footwear Innovation, was also very positive about these sorts of collaborations with athletes, especially as it increases their knowledge as well. “Our role in the Innovation Kitchen is to invent the future of performance innovation for athletes. We do that with a mission to make athletes better. In this work with Allyson, the product that has been created is making her measurably better,” he said. “We’re seeing faster times in practice, more efficiency through and exiting the curb as well as unprecedented feedback from Allyson. We cannot wait to see how she performs in the spike throughout the coming months.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

 

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