»THE GREAT UNKNOWN
ADIDAS KNEW it had a cool idea—it just didn’t
know if it could be done. As part of a marketing
blitz, the German sneaker giant wanted to etch the
names of thousands of fans of the New Zealand
All Blacks rugby team onto a single thread that
would then be woven into a special jersey. For
assistance, the company approached Richard
Blaikie, Ph.D., and research engineer Gary Turner
at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced
Materials and Nanotechnology at the University of
Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“I didn’t want to go
into such a high-profile
project promising high
have it fall down
around our ears.
Richard Blaikie, Ph.D., Canterbury University, Christchurch, New Zealand”
THE CLOCK’S TICKING
Unwilling to make any initial promises on
what he could deliver, Dr. Blaikie
secured a one-month timeframe from
Adidas to explore possible solutions. And
the two set to work using the school’s
electron beam lithography system. Not
only did Dr. Blaikie and Mr. Turner have
to develop a process, they had to figure
out how many names could fit on the
fiber and how long it would take to produce. “There were no Gantt charts in
sight on this project,” Dr. Blaikie says.
“The variables and unknowns were
more than what we knew.”
RUGBY, YOU SAY?
Dr. Blaikie was initially cool to the idea but he warmed up
when he heard the project was for All Blacks. “We do
microelectrical mechanical work, not marketing,” he jokes.
“I’m a good rugby supporter, so it got me interested.”
Dr. Blaikie and Mr.
Turner believed the
most logical solution
was to print the names
in reverse onto silicon,
then stamp that onto the
fiber. But it had to be
done in an extremely
precise manner. “When
you move a regular
stamp even a little bit, it
smudges,” Dr. Blaikie
says. “At the micro-scale that [becomes]
much more severe.”
The team tried multiple fiber materials and variations
but couldn’t seem to make the technology work in a
way that printed the names legibly. On the verge of
admitting defeat, the two tried the printing technique
on one more piece of material they hadn’t previously tested. It worked. “Once we figured out how to do
it, it was just a matter of defining the process, form
and steps to produce the thread,” he says.
The team had limited access to the electron beam
lithography system, which is used by many scientists at the university. “The best we could hope
for was to tie it up for a weekend,” he says.
OVER THE GOAL LINE
Once the team ramped up production, it managed
to finish the job in under 10 hours—fitting 100
names in every millimeter of fiber.