April 11, 2006 Rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping machinery is not new, and has been written about many times across these pages – in essence, these machines print 3D objects in the same way an inkjet printer works. Each time we run such a story, it is extraordinarily well read as a high proportion of our readers explore the latest developments in the process. Now it seems, the rapid manufacturing concept will yield a new era in manufacturing products for individuals based on three dimensional scans of their body – garments, helmets, or boots that fit just one person perfectly. British company P2L has announced a football boot designed uniquely for the individual player using selective laser sintering. The Assassin is the name of the new soccer boot featuring laser sintered outsoles and hand-crafted one-piece leather uppers. Each boot is sculpted to the individual's foot. The upper is made of exclusively sourced calfskin from Italy which can be manipulated using sophisticated technology to adapt colour, appearance and function to the athlete's needs.
Prior 2 Lever (P2L) has combined world-class expertise in podiatry and performance footwear design to create boots uniquely designed to meet the needs of professional and elite athletes. Having spent many years perfecting the knowledge to create a ‘corrective geometry’ for an outsole individually designed for maximum support and reduced injury, P2L approached Loughborough’s Rapid Manufacturing Research Group to help realise their unique invention.
The outsole is designed using a three dimensional scan of the individual's foot dimensions and unique walking/running style. The bespoke fit of the boot coupled with the hand crafted one-piece upper (negating uncomfortable seams and improving contact with the ball) make for an incredibly light design that preserves energy levels without forsaking protection and comfort.
The boots have been designed in response to the needs of professional athletes determined by years of research by P2L. P2L's system utilises a biomechanically optimised outsole (the base of the boot) that supports, controls and conserves the player's musculoskeletal system. Individually positioned studs based on the athlete's foot structure minimise peak forces on the foot whilst walking, running and sprinting. P2L develops relationships with players on an individual basis to help reduce injuries, improve comfort and performance over their entire career.
Aided by a DTI grant, the Loughborough team and P2L looked into various manufacturing processes including injection moulding and machining before declaring selective laser sintering the most competitive.
“Selective laser sintering is ideal for bespoke football boots, as such small batches of outsoles are needed for each player,” says research director Dr Neil Hopkinson. “There is no need for expensive moulds or tooling and the CAD model reproduction is so precise that the exact ‘corrective geometry’ can be realised.”
Despite its widespread commercial application, such as components for the US Navy / Boeing Super Hornet jet fighter, selective laser sintering needed to be tested specifically for use in football boots. Having proved the process could cost-effectively produce bespoke outsoles, the challenge remained to prove that laser sintered outsoles were durable yet light and flexible enough for professional football. “Partnering P2L provided the perfect opportunity for us to challenge the technical boundaries of rapid manufacturing,” says Hopkinson.
Meeting this challenge created a basis for P2L to bring to market a truly innovative new product by exploiting the UK knowledge base, through Loughborough’s Rapid Manufacturing Research Group. P2L and Loughborough partnered a Premiership football club to complete the 12-month project, using government funding from the Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre.
PhD researcher Siavash Mahdavi, of the UCL Department of Computer Science and the company Complex Matters, explains: “A particular strength of this system is that it can print out designs in very high resolution. This means that when we print a product, we can vary the density in different parts of it, creating an object that is seamless, but with different density in different parts – very difficult to achieve with existing production methods. You could design a jumper that is harder wearing at the elbows or a corset that has strength lengthwise, but still allows you to breathe.”
Or a football boot with a perfect supporting geometry for just one football player.
More details to follow shortly