Under Armour Architech Shoe.
As Steph Curry shot his 402nd three-pointer of the season and Golden State Warriors broke the Chicago Bulls all-time NBA win record the post-match analysis was quick to showcase the MVP’s quick footwork that gets him into the correct positions to effortlessly smash every shooting record in existence. The close up of his Under Armour basketball shoes broadcast to millions across the world is probably just about the greatest exposure a sports brand could ever wish for.
Curry’s exploits may have helped the Baltimore-based brand take a huge chunk of a sports footwear market (roughly $700 million in annual sales as of 2015) the company weren’t even involved in less than a decade ago but one of the reasons the likes of Curry, Tom Brady, Jordan Speith and a host of sports teams across the globe is turning to Under Armour in order to give them an extra edge is its focus on pushing the boundaries of what is possible with sportswear through technological innovation. And it was innovation out of the Under Armour camp that saw it scoop an award as prestigious in the 3D printing industry as Curry’s MVP is to basketball – AMUG’s Advanced Concepts Technical Competition.
The Under Armour Architech is a result of two years in research and development in order to create the ultimate training shoe for athletes using the latest in generative design and additive manufacturing. The striking shoe features a fully 3D printed latticed midsole that offers an unrivalled cushioning thanks to the research into perfect structures in nature and architecture. Alan Guyan, Sr. Innovation Design Manager, stepped up to take the 2016 award for a project that has been his baby since inception, TCT spoke to Alan to find out what goes into redesigning the shoe:
Q. When did it become apparent that 3D printing was not just a technology capable of prototyping anymore but for end-use production? And what barriers did you have to overcome to achieve that?
A. For so many years, 3D printing has been labelled as a great prototyping tool and that most printed components are not ideal for end-use production, but that’s where most conversations have stopped. However, the market has been slowly shifting, and demanding for commercialisation.
One of the challenges we faced was with the limited materials that are currently offered for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and whether or not it could withstand normal force loads-mechanical properties that are involved in standard footwear applications. I think one of the major turning points that we found was with a new elastomeric material from Lehmann & Voss & Co. The LUVOSINT TPU was the first real sign that it was possible to make finished footwear components for production. The combination of mechanical material properties allowed our parts to be flexible, and yet slightly rigid, all at the same time.
Printed in LUVOSINT TPU using SLS technology.
In the beginning, the TPU material was developed on one brand of SLS 3D printers, and the process parameters settings were almost completely non-existent for other SLS 3D printing brand platforms. We also needed to better understand the material refresh rate, and how this could or would affect our end goal of optimal cushioning properties. In addition, the SLS printed parts naturally have a “gritty” surface finish, which is not acceptable for finished footwear products. We also needed post-processing in order to make the printed components viable for finished product applications. This led us to the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, where they developed a proprietary licensed technology called The PUSh Process. This post-process added a new level of finish to our SLS polymer footwear components, providing a nice smooth surface finish.
There still are a number of challenges to be faced with this technology as the market continues to demand full scale 3D printing production, including machines prices, build times, build volumes, colour selections, material pricing and material processing. I’m very confident that we are on the right path, and the UA Architech training shoe is the first step into this process, which gives us a giant leap forward, and also paves the way for mass production.
Q. Generative design is a hot topic; can you tell us exactly how Autodesk Within’s software has optimised the heel of the UA Architech?
A. The Autodesk Within software has allowed our team to develop custom lightweight lattice structures, which could be tailored to meet our footwear performance goals. I call this our 3D foundation blocks, which will lead to a number of optimal cushioning options in the future. In the beginning, we were able to eliminate a number of lightweight lattice structure designs with Finite Element Analysis (FEA) simulations, and by conducting multiple mechanical tests. However, this is a two-part equation, and the software requires a number of inputs that can only be achieved by utilising the data from the UA Sport Science team. The inputs of kinematic and/or kinetic data, and material properties were able to give us the road map in creating an optimal structure. We also had to evaluate thresholds between computer simulation, and the final 3D printed products. From here we could determine the performance attributes and the future 3D print technology in all sport activities.
This innovation will continue to play an important into our core DNA of performance, and here we will continue to expand our optimization developments into future footwear product platforms.
Q. What 3D printing technology went into not just the manufacture but prototyping too? Can you talk us through the step-by-step process?
A. The UA Architech used a number of 3D printing technologies not just for manufacturing, but also in the footwear development process. These included a suite of 3D printing platforms, which include Polyjet, Binder Jet,(SLS) and Stereolithography (SLA)technologies.
The 3D printing process begins with the initial design and 3D model. Moving into digitally fabricated or better known as Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and from there we can begin the printing process.
To achieve a end-use consumer worthy finish the heel was post-processed using the PUSh Process.
At the first stages of footwear development, we start off with either 3D Polyjet technology, or a 3D binder jet platform, and from here we can turn around quick and dirty models and prove out our design concepts. This went on for a number of rounds to get it just right, and they provided as a great communication tool for internal stakeholders.
We wanted to maximize our efforts on our midsole lattice technology, so we quickly began trials on our SLS platform. The SLS components are the key to success, and the only platform viable for commercialisation. This process was one of the most challenging, and involved many difficult steps to get right, because all the many factors that come into play, and as previously mentioned regarding end-use production.
In order to control growth, shrink rates, and scale factors of printed SLS parts being manufactured from our SLS machines, we were able to leverage our Stereolithography (SLA) technology and print out gauges. These gauges served two purposes; a major advantage around the SLA platform is the parts tolerances are almost one to one to the 3D CAD model, and you can print in clear materials. By combining these two benefits, we were able to save time, money, and confirm most of the footwear components without opening a single tool.
We are continuing to expand our 3D print endeavours in a number of processes in the product development lifecycle. We feel by pushing these new technologies, we can reduce long development lead times, adapt to market trends, and get our products quicker to market.
Q. How did 3D printing marry with the manufacture of the rest of the shoe, what challenges were there?
A. During the shoe manufacturing process, there are always certain levels of challenges to face, and this applies not only to 3D printed sampling, but also with high volume production. Our goal was to create a 3D printed heel component that is engineered specifically for the strength athlete training, and to provide a stable and supportive platform within all three planes of motion. This is demonstrated in the final design by only focusing on the heel section of the midsole. We wanted to focus on heel stability, yet allow for flexibility in the forefoot.
Bonding several different types of footwear material components together is always a concern, and it can really make or break a product. In the early stages of development, we conducted numerous bonding trials to ensure we were selecting the right materials. We achieved this with great success, allowing us to focus on the individual component intergradation, and the overall execution.
Q. Is a 3D printed shoe becoming an in-demand product from UA athletes, in the goal to improve performance however incremental that is?
A. Again, to Under Armour’s dedication to make all athletes better, and to our core DNA of performance, we see that all athletes can benefit from this technology. This is our first-ever 3D printed performance trainer. The UA Architech is a 360-degree performance-training shoe that features a functional 3D printed midsole and 3D ClutchFit auxetic upper design that creates a “super-hybrid” trainer. This performance trainer provides athletes with the ultimate stability and cushioning to take on the most intense workouts. The UA Architech, went through the gauntlet of mechanical testing, with over 120 hours of physical testing, and over 80 athletes proving wear-test feedback.
The UA Architech combines two types of training shoes in one thanks to 3D printing.
Q. What athletes and what sports will benefit from this technology? Will Autodesk Within create generative design for different sports depending on what different forces of sporting activity put them under?
The UA Architech 3D printed heel component was engineered specifically for the strength-training athlete to provide a stable and supportive platform within all three planes of motion. The technology is a successful because we engineered it utilising a holistic development approach, considering each aspect of the process and giving those aspects equal importance to the overall outcome of the shoe, i.e. upper design and material geometry, 3D engineering, product testing, and manufacturing. This technology can benefit a variety of athletes, and we look forward to exploring those opportunities with the same thoughtfulness we had for the Architech.
Autodesk Within will utilize data from the UA Sport Science team to determine the performance attributes, and inputs of actual kinematic and/or kinetic data. From there we can look into the future of additional sport activities, but it starts with real biomechanical research and testing.
Q. Are professional athletes now using scanning processes for shoes specifically tailored to each foot? And if so will that trickle down to amateur athletes and the broader consumer base?
The innovation team has made substantial investments in scanning technology, and we’ve been amassing a large 3D scanning database of all athlete foot and body geometry. We see this as the 3D digital blueprint, where we can evaluate their geometry based on their sport and position. We build performance-based products for all athletes, but the process begins with our top tier athletes. From there we can ensure our product meets or exceeds our consumer needs by leveraging our professional assets. Eventually, we see this as a platform where all consumers and all athletes can benefit from this amazing 3D printing technology. We are just getting started…