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Focus: Manufacturing

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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Feb. 27, 2013

Supply Chain News: 3D Printing Revolution in Manufacturing Continues On, as Nike Releases New Shoe Made from the Technique


Gains in Performance Only Possible from 3D Techniques, Nike Says; Getting "Complexity" for Free


SCDigest Editorial Staff

So called "3D Printing" -a technique in which goods can be produced by building up layers of materials in a fashion something like a laser printer works - seems very likely to dramatically change much of today's current manufacturing, and our world.

An increasingly broad array of products are being made using the process, in which three-dimensional computer drawings are produced as real objects by machines that lay down, layer by ultra-thin layer, plastics, rubber, resins and other materials, using a movable array of spray nozzles.

SCDigest Says:



"Nike is using this 'free' complexity to design the football cleats for maximum performance without being constrained by issues of manufacturability," said 3D printing web site

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But despite the tremendous growth of the technology and the rapidly increasing array of products being made with it, so far the industry is really just scratching the surface of 3D printing's future.

Case in point: a new Nike football cleat shoe that is being made in part by a 3D printing process.

The Nike Vapor Laser Talon, specially designed to shave precious micro-seconds from a football player's time in the 40-yard dash or to enable a player to accelerate faster on the field, is thought to be the first sports shoe to be made from the technique. 3D printing is used to build the bottom "plate," or what we might think of as the sole of the shoe.

To create the plate, Nike engineers used a 3D printing technique called selective laser sintering (SLS), which uses lasers to fuse small particles into the desired, three-dimensional plate. The SLS' lasers are focused onto a bed of powder and at each spot the laser is pointed, it "sinters" or melts the powder into a solid, a few microns at a time.

The 3D printing approach was essential to making the shoe do what it does for aspiring NFL players, Nike says.

"SLS technology has revolutionized the way we design cleat plates - even beyond football - and gives Nike the capability to create solutions that were not possible within the constraints of traditional manufacturing processes," said Nike footwear innovation director Shane Kohatsu on a blog post.

On the web page announcing the new cleat, Nike adds that as a result of "proprietary material selection, Nike was able to prototype a fully functional plate and traction system within a fraction of the traditional timeframe and at a fraction of the weight. The SLS process allows for the engineering and creation of shapes not possible in traditional manufacturing processes. It also provides the ability to make design updates within hours instead of months to truly accelerate the innovation process to never seen speeds."

The approach just in Nike's case alone could have a considerable effect on its supply chain. A more "make to order" model than today's "make to stock" would seem a likely potential outcome, and with that production closer to market. In other words, Nike could make the plate as needed using 3D printing say in the US for its domestic market, using US facilities to attach the upper parts of the shoe to the plate and finish the shoe.

(Manufacturing Article Continued Below)




Sports shoe manufacturers, it turns out, have been using 3D printing to build prototypes for years, but it appears the new Nike shoe will be the first to use it for finished product.

The normal process would be to use injection molding for the plate, which for basic designs and basic materials is likely to be cheaper - perhaps much cheaper - for shoes or any parts sold in high volumes.

But 3D printing can be cheaper per unit than injection molding at lower volumes, and importantly, may enable a manufacturer to use more advanced materials or design more "complexity" into the part. That complexity may be just fine for 3D printing, but would not fare well using traditional manufacturing techniques.

"Nike is using this 'free' complexity to design the football cleats for maximum performance without being constrained by issues of manufacturability," said 3D printing web site

There is no word on whose 3D printer Nike is using for this, but experts say that if it's SLS technology, it likely comes from 3D Systems. There were also no details on what material is being used, but again experts believe it is likely to be some custom form of nylon.

What is your reaction to Nike's use of 3D printing for its shoe plate?
Will 3D printing revolutionize manufacturing? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

Recent Feedback

Utilizing 3D printing will certainly allow them to save material and make design changes at a moment's notice.
In addition, most customized solutions can be manufactured for elite athletes.
The time will come when you can upload your data to a company like this (height, weight, foot scan, stride length, etc.).  They will create a customized design for you and either print for you at their facility, or provide the file for you to get printed at a local 3D printing firm (likely a saviour for the local hadware stores).

Product Design Engineer
Mar, 02 2013

Just the beginning, but clearly another layer for down-the-road construction of the Internet of Things (IoT)!

John Hill
St. Onge Company
Mar, 06 2013