Nike Unveil the Flyprint with 3D Print Uppers for the London Marathon
Nike continue to reassess and revolutionise their running footwear, and following the incredible success of the Vaporfly Elite comes their first 3D printed upper in Flyprint. The Vaporfly 4% changed the game by improving a runner’s performance by a significant margin and has become ever present amongst the elite marathon runners, gracing podiums across the world. Featuring ZoomX foam, carbon fiber plate and an instantly recognisable silhouette, the Vaporfly Elite has become dominant. But in pursuit of ever bettering performances and to attain a competitive sub-2 hour marathon time, Nike’s development team partnered with Eliud Kipchoge to develop the new Nike Vaporfly Elite Flyprint shoe in time for the London Marathon.
We went to hear Nike Running Footwear’s Bret Schoolmeester and innovation expert Roger Cheng to get a better understanding of Flyprint, how it came in to being, and what this means for the running world. As you are all aware, Nike have a litany of the world’s elite athletes as partners, inviting them in to their labs to train and study them in order to keep producing better gear. Following on from their Breaking2 project, and more recently the Berlin marathon in September 2017, Eliud went back to Nike with a few thoughts of his own on the Vaporfly 4%, and these thoughts sparked the development of Flyprint. In fact, these type of thoughts in general are what spark most development at Nike. Roger said that Nike don’t innovate for innovation’s sake, and Bret furthered this by saying it is the athletes that come to them posing problems that give the design and innovation teams the scope and target to focus upon.
For Flyprint, the problems presented were threefold. The Flyknit uppers could be lighter, they should be waterproof and they should allow for beathability. Cutting weight is always important in a running shoe, so naturally that’s an easy target. The weather for the Berlin marathon was pretty wet, and the rain soaked through the Flyknit in the Vaporfly 4%, so addressing this became important. Similarly, when running your feet sweat and making the upper breathable allows for this to wick away and evaporate improving performance. So, with these three problems in mind, and using a computational design approach, Eliud, Roger, Bret and their relatively small team of about 5 set about their tasks.
The outcome is a TPU, 3D printed upper. It is waterproof, incredibly light and spun like a web. For us, one of the most interesting concepts is how Nike’s small team used Eliud’s feedback, running data and the 3D printing tech to be able to turn around prototype pairs of shoes in only a few days. In fact, it only takes about 30 minutes in order to get the 3D uppers printed entirely! Of course, the problem of matching the tech to the solution became key, and the pattern of the Flyprint became a large focus, in order to provide Eliud with the right support in parts of the shoe as well as the flexibility to move with his foot as he runs. A beautiful, wavy and bladerunner-esque pattern emerges at the end of the print and to hold it in hand is to realise how light it is, yet tugging it reveals how strong and flexible it can be.
The pattern itself was one of the computation design’s most crucial outputs. Having seen a number of prototypes, it is clear that this was an area of significant development throughout the phases of design. Roger pointed out that in initial designs more typical geometric patterns were used, which then were tweaked following Eliud’s feedback, to include a more intricate set of wave designs as well as a diamond pattern. The diamonds, and their compactness, serve to allow greater locking in and tightness in certain areas, whilst the waves allow for a greater range of motion whilst still providing the dimensional support needed around the foot. The design team’s algorythms around this allow them to scale these up and down dependant upon the athlete, so no need to hit the drawing board, just a few tweaks in the software and they’re off being printed.
Although limited to only a few pairs to buy, and available to Nike’s elite atheletes, we think there is great scope for Nike to continually roll this out and forward to help your even your average runner get their hands on a custom printed pair in the future – and Nike’s purchase of Invertex looks to be leaning into this too.
Eliud said to the team at Nike that 100% of him is not 1% of the team, and although Eliud may be set to take the top spot at the London Marathon, the Nike team will be patting each other on the back.