Nike Inc. conducted major research and development before applying its swoosh emblem to a $150 backpack.
The project turned on a ``massive R&D effort on the plastics side'' and overcoming color and torsional flex challenges, said Michael Collier, advanced program manager for Nike Bags.
The Nike Epic 1 backpack received a bronze in the 2003 Industrial Design Excellence Awards competition. Credits went to Nike and early design collaborator Boblbee of Torekov, Sweden.
Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike began exploring the exoskeleton backpack market in 2001 and launched the high-end retail line in late 2002, initially in Asia. Nike also sells lower-priced duffels, backpacks and bags for women and team sports.
A division of Muttenz, Switzerland-based Clariant International Ltd. ``was critical in execution of masterbatch combinations that would work with our new plastics, especially controlling flow lines with metallic flakes,'' Collier said. ``For bags, this level of technical plastics research and development has never been done before.''
Nike created a first-of-a-kind, external cosmetic structural frame of thermoplastic. The frame suspends the 420-denier nylon bag. The load is transferred to the wearer's hips to reduce weight on the back and shoulders. Use of Bayer Corp.'s TPU minimizes structural ribbing.
Nike marketed the Epic as a best-of-class product and targeted the 18- to 32-year-old male who might commute with a laptop, power sources, MP3 player, paperwork and sporting gear. Each backpack weighs 3 pounds and measures 19 by 12 by 71/2 inches.
While a project of Epic's proportions usually takes two years to generate prototypes, Nike completed the entire process in eight months, Collier said.
The Nike team visited the Phoenix design facility of Clariant Masterbatches and, en route to evenly suspending the flakes in TPU, overcame challenges with bunching, streaking, flow marks and ultraviolet stabilization.
``We were working on an accelerated time schedule,'' said Paul Kobel, Clariant Masterbatches key account manager. ``Nike was very focused and an important part of that was speed to market.'' Looking to broaden the eventual choices, Clariant and Nike customized five colors in one unusually busy day. Silver, black and red were the initial choices.
Clariant transferred masterbatch formulas to its Guangzhou, China, facility and monitored mold trials.
In coming weeks, Nike identified processing issues with the tool. Clariant ``supplied numerous samples from our Guangzhou plant and worked with the local molder to eliminate the problem,'' Kobel said.
The processor injection molds the seven frame sections of TPU filled with 30 percent fiberglass and overmolds with unfilled, scratch-resistant, translucent elastomeric TPU. The elastomer links two of the main structures and creates a bonded foot that allows the backpack to stand independently.
Threaded T-pins of ABS are insert molded into the frame rail.
An assembler can connect the textile bag to the frame components in eight minutes using 10 plastic snap-fit fasteners and eight screws.
By creating a modular frame, Nike has the option to leverage its tooling investment across multiple bag styles in the future.
For $160, a consumer on the Nike iD Website can choose from 128 combinations for colors of the fabric, frame and net. From order to delivery: two weeks.
Nike plans a special color for the upcoming Olympic games, and soon will offer patterns.
So far, backpacks are a small part of Nike's business. Nike Bags reports within the performance equipment segment, which accounted for 8.5 percent of Nike's sales of $10.7 billion for the fiscal year ended May 31.