Super Bowl cleats debut a 3D-printed design

3D printers reduce design time from months to hours

When football players hit the field for the Super Bowl this Sunday, the cleats on their shoes will have been designed for the first time on a 3D printer.

Nike announced that its Vapor Laser Talon bottom plate weighs just 5.6 oz. and was specifically designed on a 3D printer to provide optimal traction on football turf and to help athletes maintain their "drive stance" longer.

Nike's 3D laser prototyped cleat plate, called the Vapor Laser Talon. The plate weighs just 5.6 oz.

According to Performance Director Lance Walker, an athlete's "Zero Step" is a pivotal point that can make or break an athlete's 40-yard dash time. In the moments before that first step hits the turf, his propulsion and acceleration speed are determined. At that point, it's all about geometry, Nike said.

The plate of the cleat is crafted using Selective Laser Sintering technology (SLS), a 3D printing technique that uses lasers to melt successive layers of powdered polymers.

Unlike fused deposition modeling, where polymers are melted and extruded from a hair-thin hole in a nozzle layer by layer, SLS 3D printers melt layers in a bed of powder. As each layer is melted, an additional layer of powder from a cartridge is added atop the preceding layer. Each layer is fused to the layer beneath it as it melts. As with all 3D printing, computer-aided design (CAD) software directs the robotic laser mechanism as it builds an object.

Nike said the SLS 3D printing, it was able to prototype a fully functional cleat plate and traction system within a fraction of the traditional timeframe -- and at a fraction of the weight.

The SLS process allowed for the engineering and creation of shapes not possible in traditional manufacturing, the company said. It also allows for design updates within hours instead of months to truly accelerate the innovation process.

"SLS technology has revolutionized the way we design cleat plates - even beyond football - and gives Nike the ability to create solutions that were not possible within the constraints of traditional manufacturing processes," Shane Kohatsu, director of Nike Footwear Innovation, said in a statement.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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