3D Printing and Olympic Athletes Help Nike to Design New Shoes

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Nike is currently ahead of its arch rival Adidas in utilizing 3D printing technology

Nike has designed new shoes called Zoom Superfly Elite using state of the art technology such as 3D printing. Not only that, but it has also utilized the world’s best Olympic sprinters to optimize the shoe further for athletes that wear Nike shoes.

Nike has stated that the company hopes its new shoes will give athletes (who use them of course) the edge they look for, especially when competing in Olympics where the pride of the nation is at stake.

Jamaican athlete, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who will compete in women’s 100m and 4x100m relay race at the Olympics this month in Brazil, will become the first athlete to wear Nike’s 3D printed shoes.

Nike has claimed, as it does with every new iteration of all its shoes, that Zoom Superfly Elite is the most advanced shoe that has ever been made for athletes competing in sports like track and field.

Shelly-Ann, at 29, is the favorite to win those events in any case so it is unclear how these shoes would benefit her in winning the gold for Jamaica this year at Rio Olympics 2016.

But the shoes may indeed end up helping her since Shelly-Ann was directly involved in the design process of her new shoes, i.e., Nike Zoom Superfly Elite.

Long before 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil had even started, Shelly-Ann spent hours at Nike’s Sports Research Lab on working out the details regarding her shoe.

It has been reported that as a result of her hard work in the actual process of her shoe’s design, the shoe now has the ideal design for an athlete with a sprinter profile. The performance benefit that the shoe will provide to its wearer would outclass every other shoe on the market.

Shelly-Ann also tested various 3D printed prototypes of Nike’s Zoom Superfly Elite spikes, and that allowed Nike to make tailor-made shoes for Fraser.

To make sure that the shoes gave Frazer a significant performance boost, Nike collected data from Shelly-Ann’s tests. These tests measured Shelly-Ann’s track speed and the speed, which was the most significant part of the process, at which she got off the blocks at the start of the race.

Nike employed 3D printing technology to manufacture several spikes which had different spike plates. Each prototype had varying amounts of tension to merge perfectly with the athlete’s sole.

Nike’s director of innovation and design, Shane Kohatsu, stated that the key factor behind such a shoe was to comprehend how the plates recoiled off the track when the athlete was running at full speed.

With that information stored and utilized, Nike was able to produce track shoes that aided runners to run faster with more comfort and feel.

He also said that the final model was required to provide the optimal amount of support and endurance so that the shoe could handle pressure forces exerted on the shoe by the athletes in a 100m race.

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Nike says that 3D printing isn’t the main feature of its shoes.

If that wasn’t enough of a challenge for Nike, then the company went one step further and made sure that the final model was extremely lightweight so that the athlete could feel comfortable during a stressful run.

Fraser-Pryce won the gold medal in women’s 100m race consecutively for the past two Olympic events. So it was very shrewd for Nike to test its latest shoes on an athlete that was more or less the favorite to win the race regardless of the shoes worn.

But since Fraser is an athlete, the feeling of wanting to improve all the time would not be alien to her, and that is exactly the reason why Fraser will try on the new track shoes at Olympics in Rio.

Racing, at the Olympics, mean that even a margin as little as one-tenth of a second can prove to be the difference between a first place finish and a second place finish.

And just for the record, no one cares about a silver medal. Everyone wants (and counts) the gold medal. As the saying goes, the person who finishes second is the first person to lose the race.

And since the margins between victory and defeat are so slim, any advantage no matter how small is a precious one.

For clarity’s sake, the finished design of Nike’s Zoom Superfly Elite does not feature the 3D printed plate for the sole. It was only used for development purposes, but it did play a critical role in the final plastic version.

That plastic version of the final product will adorn over 100 Nike sponsored athletes at the Olympics in Rio this year. Too bad Nike won’t be able to tweet about it.

Further details have revealed that Nike actually tested more than twenty 3D printed plates before the company decided to manufacture the Zoom Superfly Elite without the screw-in spikes.

Generally, a sprinter’s footwear has screw-in spikes, but Nike has bucked the trend with its super advanced track and field spikes.

Nike did that by using fixed pins on the bottom of the plates. That change ensures that the athlete’s foot is closer to the actual track.

This technique usually results in faster speed for the athletes who compete in explosive sports.

Kohatsu, Nike’s innovation design director, had the necessary experience required to design such as shoe as he had been involved in a number of 3D printing related projects at Nike.

The director believes that 3D printing helps Nike to manufacture better products. But that doesn’t make 3D printing the defining feature of Nike products.

He also said that for a company as big as Nike, at the moment, 3D printing is only used for speeding up the project. That allows Nike to have plenty of time for the innovation process of its products.

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Nike’s SuperFly Zoom Elite will give its wearer the edge when it comes to racing events.

Kohatsu stated that 3D printing industry hadn’t matured enough yet and that conventional mass production techniques will continue to dominate the market for some time to come.

The director told reporters that Nike uses 3D printing for purposes the technology is best at, and that is, rapid prototyping.

With that said, after observing Nike’s 3D printed cleat concepts, it should be clear to anyone that the technology has a bright future ahead of it.

Other brands like Nike’s nemesis Adidas, New Balance, and Under Armour has all introduced their own 3D printed shoes. Adidas says that even though currently the 3D printed shoes are only in their conceptual phase, the company intends to produce a consumer version very soon.

Other experts in the field of designing shoes such as Tobie Hatfield, who is Nike’s Senior Director of Athlete Innovation (and became famous for designing Michael Johnson’s gold spikes in 1996 Olympics) also share Kohatsu views.

Those views are that 3D printed shoes aren’t ready for the mass market at the current moment. Nike’s other shoe the Nike Zoom PV III is also a 3D printed shoe, and it is specifically designed for pole-vaulters.

Tobie says that if the athletes find it useful, and the scale is manageable, it is possible that Nike will speed up the process of introducing 3D printed shoes for athletes.

Nike Zoom PV III, just like Zoom Superfly Elite, was also finalized after a series of prototype models.

But Nike Zoom PV III didn’t leverage 3D printing technology as much as Zoom Superfly. The reason being that Tobie felt more comfortable with other machinery to create Nike Zoom PV III’s parts.

Kohatsu also expressed his surprise at people who thought that 3D printing was just an easy bake Oven solution. He reiterated that the technology simply wasn’t developed enough yet.

But he remained confident as he said that Nike would continue to use 3D printing technology to help the company design more shoes like Zoom Superfly Elite and Magista 2.

Kohatsu was of the opinion that Nike was a progressive shoe company, and if there was a technology available that would enhance the performance of athletes, then the company will adopt that technology at the earliest opportunity.

 

Zohair

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