Vectran Fiber key to Flywire hitting the track in Beijing Olympics
When athletes from around the world go for the gold at the Beijing Olympics, a super strong yet lightweight and flexible fiber being used in a revolutionary new type of running shoe construction from Nike, may help propel them to victory.
Vectran fiber, a high-performance multifilament yarn spun from liquid crystal polymer, is a key component of the new Flywire technology being used in Zoom Victory Spikes that are so light that athletes say they feel like a second skin or spikes coming out of their feet.
Manufactured by Kuraray America Inc, Vectran fiber is pound-for-pound five times stronger than steel. In the Flywire technology, these fibers work like cables in the new suspension bridge-inspired design, providing cushioning and support precisely where a foot needs it.
Nike is calling the Zoom Victory Spike its “lightest and strongest footwear ever made,” weighing 93 grams, without compromising on durability, integrity or support. In comparison, the famed Gold Shoe worn by Michael Johnson in the 1996 Olympics, which had been the lightest spike to date, weighed in at 112 grams.
Each Zoom Victory Spike uses 116 strands of the Vectran fiber Flywire strands to keep an athletes' foot cushioned at key points, such as the heel and forefoot, and also firmly cradled in the spike's footprint, according to the Nike Innovation Lab site. This enables more energy to be transferred directly into forward motion with each stride.
Nike is supplying the Zoom Victory Spikes to the U.S. track and field team for middle distance events and Zoom Matumbo, also utilizing Flywire, for longer distance events. The same technology is being used in Hyperdunk basketball sneakers being worn by L.A. Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant.
The multi-filament Vectran fibers, which are a quarter of the diameter of a human hair, were converted into embroidery threads by Coats plc, the world's largest manufacturer of industrial sewing and embroidery threads. The Coats Technology Center (CTC) collaborated with Nike to resolve any technical hurdles that ultimately led to the development of the threads utilizing Vectran.
Nike explored the use of other high performance synthetic fibers, before choosing Vectran for achieving the desired properties.
“Vectran fiber's unique combination of properties, including its tensile strength, light weight and flexibility, enabled Nike to design the lightest weight spikes ever made,” said Robert Knudsen, manager of sales and marketing for Kuraray America, Inc.'s Vectran division.
“Kuraray is pleased to be working with Coats to supply Vectran fiber in this revolutionary design that has allowed Nike to achieve both light weight and strength – a combination that was never thought possible before today,” he said.
Versatile Vectran has been used in demanding applications ranging from cushioning Mars Rovers during landings to the cabling system on new airborne wind turbines, puncture-resistant bicycle tires and the world's largest sail on a luxury charter.