Polymers Enable & Enhance Sports at Every Level

Plastics and rubber materials have revolutionized many aspects of sports and leisure activities over the years, and technology advances continue to improve safety, comfort, performance and – increasingly – sustainability, in those sectors.

The applications are diverse and widespread – ranging from the balls used in games and various footwear and clothing, to protective helmets and padding, playing surfaces, and gear such as racquets, golf clubs, safety eyewear, racing bikes, skis, kayaks and surfboards.

Manufacturers and brand owners, for example, are investing significant money and effort into producing sneakers and footwear that offer style, performance and increased recyclability while also leveraging techniques such as 3D printing.

Three grades of Wanhua Chemical TPU materials are being used in this newly
introduced, 3D printed sneaker made for Peak Sports. (Wanhua Chemical

Yantai, China-based materials supplier Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd. has partnered with Chinese footwear maker Peak Sports to 3D print a futuristic-looking sneaker entirely from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Called “The Next,” the colorful shoe is both customizable and totally recyclable, the two firms said when announcing it in October. Wanhua supplies TPU filament, powder and coatings and adhesive to make the shoe.

Germany’s Covestro, meanwhile, is also kicking up its heels in this sector. The materials supplier is working with Chinese shoe designer Axis Liu to create trendy, recyclable sneakers entirely from TPUs, as well. The partners have also developed customized running and basketball shoes, using a number of Covestro material technologies, including its Insqin-brand, water-based PU textile coatings and adhesives, urethane foams, TPU textile fibers and films, and Maezio-brand continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites (CFRTP).

Others in that sector, such as Nike and adidas, also are finding ways to incorporate waste ocean plastics into their shoes and sportswear.

Indian start-up sports apparel company Alcis Sports, meanwhile, is making its line of athleisure clothing out of recycled PET bottles. Company co-founder Roshan Baid told The Economic Times in India in October that the firm plans to produce half its garments from recycled polyester within the next few months. Alcis claims that each T-shirt they make, for example, consumes about eight plastic bottles, saves roughly 27 liters of water, uses half the energy to produce, and reduces carbon emissions by more than 54 percent than shirts made from virgin polyester.

Companies such as Spanish injection molder RDI Plastics use polycarbonate, ABS, expanded polystyrene and other materials to make protective helmets for use in hockey, soccer, motocross and cycling, among others.

Several materials producers are very involved in supplying solutions to different parts of the sports and leisure markets. Here are just a couple examples:

DuPont offers a number of impact-
resistant resins such as acetal, nylon
and TPE for use in various sporting
good applications, from helmets to snowboards. (DuPont Co. photo)

DuPont Co.’s Surlyn resin finds use in golf ball covers, bowling pin covers, body boards, snowshoes and other winter sports articles. Its performance polymers, such as Delrin acetal resin, Hytrel thermoplastic elastomer and Zytel nylon resin are used in snow-shoe bindings, in-line skates, and various types of buckles and straps. And its Kevlar aramid fiber is used in sporting good components ranging from bicycle helmets and motorcycle clothing, to boating hulls and hiking boots.

BASF SE’s polyurethane-based flooring structures find use on track surfaces and children playgrounds. The materials help to provide high rebound and excellent impact absorption, helping athletes achieve their best performance while lowering risks of exercise-related injuries for children.

When it comes to water sports, San Francisco-based Oru Kayak Inc. has applied the traditional Japanese art of origami and used it to create a series of lightweight, foldable kayaks made from corrugated polypropylene. Its products range from 12 to 16 feet long and from 26 to 34 pounds, and fold up into a suitcase-sized case with a shoulder strap that can easily be carried by one person.

French resin supplier Arkema Group also supplies materials for use in a variety of sporting applications, including for the cockpit window and the glazing shielding the two helms of its 50-foot Arkema trimaran racing boat. For that, they used Altuglas ShieldUp nanostructured acrylic sheet, which weighs about half as much as conventional glass.
In mid-October, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, in conjunction with several partners, successfully produced the world’s largest 3D printed boat, entirely from carbon fiber-reinforced ABS supplied by Techmer PM LLC. Dubbed the 3Dirigo, the 25-foot-long, 5,000-pound patrol boat was printed on a 3D printer, called the MasterPrint, made by Rockford, Ill.‐based Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. The effort earned the group three Guinness World Records – for the world’s largest prototype polymer 3D printer, largest solid 3D‐printed object, and largest 3D‐printed boat.

And even the sports venues themselves are making good use of plastic materials. At the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil, for example, officials found a way to use millions of recycled plastic bottles to produce more than 6,700 seats in the Maracanã stadium.

There is no disputing the vital role that plastics and rubber materials play in virtually every aspect of the sporting world – which is why such applications will be among those in the spotlight at CHINAPLAS 2020 in Shanghai next April. For more information about CHINAPLAS 2020, please visit the official show website at www.ChinaplasOnline.com.