Swiss running shoe brand On, together with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, has developed a type of carbon spring for running shoes that can be produced sustainably and cost-effectively. Waste from the aviation industry is used as the starting material.
The Speedboard is an essential part of the running shoe. The fibre-reinforced plate sits in the sole and supports the athlete during push-off. The Speedboard absorbs the shock energy, holds it for a moment like a stretched spring and releases it as soon as the shoe breaks away from the ground.
“The Speedboard makes the sole more reactive and efficient,” explains Nils Altrogge, Head of Innovation Technology at On. Professional athletes need extremely stiff boards made of carbon. “It’s the only way to achieve the important mix of light weight and function.” But carbon is not sustainable, it is difficult to dispose of, and manufacturing using this material is very costly. “Enough carbon has already been produced worldwide – so why not simply use a fibre that has already been used once before?”
A second life for carbon fibres
Together with the Institute of Polymer Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW, the running shoe specialists researched sustainable and cost-effective alternatives for the production of their Speedboards. Innosuisse examined the idea of giving carbon fibres a second life in a high-tech product and decided to support the project.
The starting material for the “Ultimate Speedboards” – as the project is called – is fibres from carbon waste produced during the production of components for the aviation and automotive industries. The FHNW took on the development of the material and the process, while On developed the design and the function of the sustainable running shoe. The process, which was developed during the two and a half years of the project, is sustainable and could be suitable for serial production in future.
An important outside perspective
On, which began life as a small start-up in Zurich in 2010 and now has over 1,000 employees worldwide, has already implemented several projects with the support of Innosuisse. This link with Swiss research is very important to them, according to Nils Altrogge. “Interdisciplinary collaboration makes it possible to drive major innovations forward.” Despite the company’s current size, he explains that it cannot do everything by itself – and as a company it is dependent on the equipment and the specific engineering knowledge of universities.
It is important to move developments forward quickly: “The market is growing fast. And On is still a small brand in the international market – like David against Goliath. These types of projects wouldn’t get done if we had to do them on our own. We have to look at keeping the day-to-day business going.”
And an outside perspective is always important in such projects. “We deal with shoes on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s not possible to see the trees for the forest. Engineers from a different discipline have a different perspective, which can be very helpful for developments in the area of innovation.” Nils Altrogge is pleased to report that the project has resulted in a patent.
Research into the idea of a third life
Officially, the project is finished, but research continues. A running shoe should not be the final stop for carbon fibre, after all. In this case, the sustainable Speedboard will be reused later – by dissolving out its fibres and using them in other processes such as injection moulding.
Last modification 04.02.2022