3D printed custom running shoes could mean Olympic Gold in 2016

Luc Fasaro is just a student, but if his work so far as a designer is anything to go by he has a wonderful career ahead of him. About to graduate from London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, he has already helped design the podiums for the 2012 London Olympics. But now he’s having an impact on the 2016 Olympics in Rio with his “designed to win” custom running shoes, currently in development and certain to be ready for the next Olympics.

In an event where fractions of a second can make the difference between bringing home a metal or not, shoe design is critical. And Fasaro has found an edge: 3D printing. He has already used the technology to produce usable prototypes that are capable of cutting these fractions of seconds off a hundred meter race time. 3D printing is key to making these shoes and making them so light, while 3D scanning is key to making them a perfect fit to the athlete’s feet.

The shoes are the lightest running shoes ever at only 90g, and that certainly should help with a runner’s time, but so will the research that has gone into developing the shape and stiffness that create a perfect fit for the runner’s foot — no movement of the athlete’s foot in the shoe means no loss of energy.

The shoes have been tested by amateur athletes in London and results in extensive side by side testing show that these running shoes are on average a massive 0.35 seconds quicker over 100 meters; that’s approximately 3.5% of the athletes’ total 100 meter time. To understand just how significant this is, at the Beijing Olympics the eight finalists finished within 0.35 seconds of each other. Clearly then these shoes could make the difference between last and gold.

The stiffness of the shoes is what has taken Luc the most time to develop, and by using 3D printing he is able to print a very precise and strong structure that bends just the right amount. The level of accuracy is only possible with 3D printing and can be kept constant across different sized shoes for different athletes based on the optimum level. It is finding this optimum level of stiffness that is now what is most important, and again Luc’s team of local athletes has been helping him, by using slow motion cameras and testing pair after pair of shoes.

3D printing has allowed Luc to go back and tweak his design, based on testing, and print out new shoes overnight to test on the track the next day. With traditional manufacturing this just wouldn’t be possible.

The materials used for 3D printing are made to be flexible and a nylon polyamide powder is used with a laser sintering based 3D printer. The materials aren’t cheap, and are only used in small amounts for each shoe, with the unused powder in the printer tray reusable in the next run.

Of course, for Olympic and other professional athletes the cost of these custom shoes will be of little concern. But Luc is making a product that he hopes will be eventually accessible to amateur athletes. These athletes certainly appreciate what he is doing, as they demonstrated to him with the huge interest at the recent Royal College of Arts Graduation Show.

Source: Reuters