Just a few years ago, actual 3D printers were a letdown. The technology was slow and expensive, consumers didn’t want the things that the printers made, and manufacturers were bent on making things that the machines were not capable of.
The 3D printing game has become a more rewarding one in recent years. There’s the growth of the affordable prosthetic industry, and work is underway to print liver tissue. But altering lives aside, current technology is ready to revolutionise the world of production. And no other sector is leading the creative potential more than fashion design.
Nike’s 3D Flyprint Sneaker
Take the sneaker. Performance and lifestyle brands are at war to dominate our feet, and 3D printing has been shaping the engineering of sneaker possibilities. While the Adidas FutureCraft and Under Armour Futurist target the sole and midsole respectively, Nike’s new Flyprint sneaker focuses on the upper part of the shoe. It is the first 3D-printed textile upper in performance footwear, designed to raise the game of the world’s fastest distance runner.
The inspiration for the Flyprint came after a particularly wet marathon in Berlin. The Zoom Vaporfly Elite 4% that Nike put on the feet of Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge had arrived soaking wet. No champion wants to lose a race to water, and so to remedy that, Nike decided to employ a new waterproof fabric.
The Miracle Material Is Plastic
Instead of going through the traditional route of woven fabric, the Flyprint is a lattice of fused material. The shoes are then structured using athlete data to best support a runner’s foot.
Based on thermoplastic urethane plastic (TPU), the resulting fabric is one that can bend and stretch with the slightest movement of your foot. It is also as light as air and way more breathable than Nike’s other textiles.
In traditional 2D fabrics, there is frictional resistance between the interlaced yarns, but a printed textile like this has a lot more potential due to its fused intersections. If you’d look closely at the structure of this fabric, you’ll notice a few distinct patterns. The front of the shoe sports a lattice while the sides use one that’s a lot more wave-like. This adds stiffness for support and plenty of ventilation to go around.
Nike’s Flyprint shoes can be seen on shelves by late this year, or early 2019. For now, only the pro runners have them, and that includes Kipchoge who topped this year’s London Marathon in them.