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Investigating the suitability of laser sintered elastomers for running footwear applications

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posted on 18.03.2013, 09:00 by Craig Davidson
The research contained within this thesis formed part of an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded project based at Loughborough University, which aimed to investigate the use of additive manufacturing (AM), and in particular sintering technologies, for the production of running footwear sole units. Laser sintering (LS) is an AM process which produces parts directly from a computer aided design (CAD) file by selectively fusing successive layers of powdered material using a CO2 laser. LS imparts significant advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques including extensive design freedom, the ability to manipulate the local properties of a single material part as well as economical manufacture of bespoke items due to the elimination of tooling. Modifying the mechanical properties and/or geometry of sole units has been shown to provide benefits in the areas of performance, injury risk reduction and comfort, especially when considering elite athletes on a subject specific basis. Given the attributes of LS outlined above, the technology offers significant potential to produce sole units offering high added-value compared to conventional counterparts which are limited by the constraints of traditional processing techniques such as injection moulding. However, the mechanical capacity of LS polymers in context of such application was unknown. Accordingly, this research investigated the suitability of a laser sintered elastomer (LSE) material, in view of key selected mechanical properties, for the manufacture of running shoe midsoles. The midsole is the primary functional component in the sole unit of a running shoe used for distance running on hard surfaces. Following a preliminary assessment of the selected LSE (TPE 210-S), a new dynamic test method was designed to assess the compressive, fatigue and time dependent recovery properties of midsole material specimens under loading conditions representative of in-service use. The method was successfully implemented on an electro-mechanical test apparatus (previously unreported upon in literature) and used firstly, to benchmark the aforementioned properties of a range of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyurethane (PU) midsole foams representative of the range currently used in production, and secondly, to establish the same property set for TPE 210-S specimens produced across a range of laser powers (LP's). Initial cycle operating ranges in terms of key compressive properties were established for EVA and PU materials. All conventional variants showed considerable deterioration from these initial values over the 125,000 cycle test regime, but subsequently demonstrated partial recovery when left unloaded post-test. PU grades generally exhibited better fatigue performance and findings were consistent with those of previous studies. Whilst variation in LP facilitated linear variation in displacement and stiffness properties for TPE 210-S, all specimens yielded a stiffer and more elastic response than that of conventional foams at the outset; initial compressive operating ranges, whilst within close proximity, did not overlap. However, fatigue performance was found to be superior with only relatively small property changes occurring over the test regime regardless of LP. Furthermore, no signs of catastrophic specimen failure (e.g. cracking) were visually apparent. In this respect the material showed good suitability for midsole applications, but further work is required to address increasing the available compressive property range which fell outside the scope of this work.



  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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