A few weeks ago we showed some R&D that we’ve been doing on digital textiles, commenting about how aniostropy could be designed in or out of the 3D printing process when building flat objects.
FYI – Anisotropy is a measure of uniformity in a structure. Most 3D printing projects and technologies aim to make the mechanical properties of the final printed body uniform, mimicing established manufacturing technologies like injection moulding. That seems like a waste of an opportunity within 3D printing that designers are only now starting to get to grips with.
Well, it seems Nike are a bit further along that track than we knew, with their ‘Flyprint’ professional-level sports shoes. These shoes did the London Marathon with Eliud Kipchoge driving them
This is the first time that conventional ‘uppers’ have been 3D printed for a commercial (albeit bespoke) line of sports shoes. Previous 3D printed sneakers have been soles (Adidas/Carbon) and/or mid-soles/footbeds (Under Armour).
The semi-conventional pattern of the Nike Flyprint upper is built as a flat textile panel from TPU which is 3D printed on what seems to be, again, a fairly conventional Fused Filament-style 3d printer. Conventional textile uppers are cut and sewn by nimble hands.
From the vid the printer is pretty big, dimensionally, but otherwise nothing special. The special thing is the optimisation of where the upper has strength, where it has breathability and where it has flexibility. The structure is deliberately isotropic (has uneven properties). The data on where to put the 3D printed material and where not in order to achieve an optimised performance comes from analysis of the individual runner’s anatomy and running dynamics. That is Nike’s special sauce.
At $600 per pair they aren’t cheap and right now they are only being produced for Nike sponsored professional atheletes, but this is scalable technology. And this is a market that Fishy Filament’s recycled nylon material can service with the right partner.