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Nike Releases First 3-D Printed Textile Upper for Performance Footwear

Nike is betting on its latest 3-D printed development to advance performance footwear for athletes.

The athletic retailer on Tuesday unveiled Flyprint, which it touts as the first 3-D printed textile upper in performance footwear. Designed to help distance runners increase their speed, Flyprint leverages athlete data to create new textile geometries for performance solutions, including breathability and water resistance.

Nike will introduce Flyprint in its Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint shoe that was created for Kenyan long distance runner Eluid Kipchoge to wear at the London marathon on Sunday. The brand will sell a limited run of the shoes in London through its app this weekend.

Nike Flyprint uppers are made through a solid deposit modeling (SDM) process, where a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) filament is unwound from a coil, melted and then laid down in layers. As part of the process, athlete data is captured and computed through computational design tools to determine the ideal composition of Flyprint upper material. The information is then used to produce the final Flyprint textile.

“Through performance printing, Nike is capable of moving faster with unprecedented precision—prototyping is 16-times quicker than in any previous manufacturing method,” Nike said in a statement.

One benefit of 3-D textiles over traditional 2-D materials, according to Nike, is a material that’s made more dynamic by adding an interconnection beyond warp and weft.

Where a woven textile has frictional resistance between the warp and weft yarns, for example, a printed textile’s fused interactions greater “precision-tuned containment,” according to Nike. It’s also lighter and more breathable than previous textiles Nike has used for its textiles.

Adding to its ability to advance footwear production, the Flyknit operation increases the pace of overall design time, certain lines in the material can be adjusted locally without disrupting the overall construction, and the ability to create rapid iterations means testing and revision times are dramatically reduced.

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“In short, Flyprint allows for the highest-fidelity design with the greatest athlete benefit in the shortest time,” Nike said.

What’s more, Flyprint works well with other materials, including its Flyknit yarns, to balance fit and structure for athletes’ feet. According to Nike, Flyknit yarns can also be engineered to thermally bond with Flyprint textiles, removing the step of gluing or stitching in the shoe production process.

As part of the Flyprint production process, Nike had turned to Kipchoge for feedback on the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint shoe. Designers spoke with the athlete, who indicated that it would be ideal to have a performance running shoe that didn’t carry any extra weight during wet weather conditions, and made adjustments accordingly.

“You feel like flying when you’re running. [There’s] no impact at all, no soreness on the muscles. The [design team] really thought about how to handle the rainy season,” Kipchoge said. “This is the best outsole. It seals off absorption. It cannot absorb any water, so it’s really a plus for me in months when the weather is not really friendly.”