By 2012 the footwear industry was regularly using 3D printing for rapid prototyping. NIKE, however, was eager to develop the technology in a commercial capacity. They offered KiK Laboratory founder, Tom Berend, the opportunity to lead the design of the first shoe to ever push 3D printing beyond prototyping. The product proposed: a new cleat for the 2013 NFL combine. The goal: faster, stronger, lighter.
The event to put the product to the test — the 40 yard dash. The loose turf beneath the athletes feet posed a number of design challenges that had never been conquered by modern footwear. To date, molded football cleats failed to provide optimal traction on the turf surface. Without starting blocks used by track sprinters, this new baseplate needed to provide extreme torsional rigidity and just enough forefoot flexibility for ideal positioning.
With the ability to print commercially viable materials, the team was able to quickly iterate and test Tom’s design options. By redefining the limits of the technology, the team pushed performance and aesthetics to the cutting-edge. They succeeded in optimizing the overall weight, and generated dramatic new forms that were never before achievable.
By achieving the ideal strength to weight ratio this innovative new cleat, coined the Vapor Laser Talon, superseded expectations. Worn by seven of the top-10 fastest athletes at the 2013 NFL Combine, the new 3D printed baseplate had delivered on minimum weight, maximized propulsion, and optimal traction. With the success of this new design, the team validated 3D printing for commercial product use and established a foundation for continued technological innovation.