LANXESS: High-tech products for sports

Cologne/São Paulo – Faster, better, stronger: Brazil will once again be alive with action from June 12 to July 13. At the soccer event 2014, it’s all about peak performance. 32 nations will be competing in this world-class event. Like everywhere else in the world, the people at LANXESS in Cologne, Germany, will have their eyes on Brazil when the time comes again for great achievements. LANXESS is always a part of top-level competitive sports.

High-tech for your feet

LANXESS: High-tech products for sports
LANXESS: High-tech products for sports

Footwear is among the most important pieces of equipment in any sport. And when it comes to shoes, there is a proper “tool” for every task. With the exception of indoor soccer shoes, all soccer shoes have exchangeable or molded studs of some kind underneath the soles to provide sufficient traction against slipping. The most common studs today are the exchangeable type, which can be inserted into the sole individually and are usually made of rubber or plastic. In the case of molded studs, the rubber or plastic structures are part of the sole and cannot be removed. The sole must have at least 10 molded studs. Artificial turf shoes feature numerous small studs. These days a number of different studs are available that are tailored to the type of playing field. Special LANXESS plastic and rubber products are used to fabricate them.

While sprinters usually wear hard soles with spikes, endurance runners need an entirely different shoe. Over long distances, the ankle joints, tendons, knees and foot bones are exposed to extreme stresses. When jogging, forces up to three times our body weight act on our bones and joints, depending on the intensity of the workout and type of ground. In this case, runners need the right mix of cushioning and grip, protection and stability to prevent injuries and keep up their performance all the way to the finish line.

It’s all in the mix

“The soles incorporate technology similar to that used in modern fuel-saving tires,” explains Martin Mezger, rubber product expert at LANXESS. “Silica technology that gives the tires good grip and makes them particularly economical also ensures that running shoes have good grip, even on a wet track.” Krynac is the name of the material from LANXESS that has proven to be uniquely abrasion-resistant, durable, flexible and popular in this application. Long distance runners in particular additionally need damping properties and elasticity. “When we run, the impact can be three times our body weight,” Mezger points out. “And that puts a tremendous strain on the joints in the long term.” Midsoles made of modern high-performance rubber therefore act as a buffer or cushion between the foot and the hard ground. Levapren from LANXESS is an example of such a material.

Incorporated in the soles of modern soccer shoes are high-performance plastics from the High Performance Materials business unit, such as Tepex. This product reinforces the sole, but is very lightweight at the same time. Ethylene-vinyl acetate rubber (EVM) has a cushioning and stabilizing effect. “Depending on an athlete’s running style, a soft material is built into the heel to absorb shocks, while an elastic material is used on the ball of the foot so that as little kinetic energy as possible is lost.” During the manufacturing process, the synthetic rubber is first mixed with fillers, crosslinkers and foaming agents, after which it is kneaded and rolled before finally being foamed on exposure to heat. “By varying the vinyl acetate content, we can precisely adjust the damping or elastic effect,” Mezger says. Every shoe manufacturer has its own material mix – or secret recipe for success – for the sole in terms of damping, grip and elasticity.

Rolling right up to the podium

Not only runners and soccer players are concerned with good grip and reliable soles; athletes on two, three or four wheels also need high-performance rubber products like those LANXESS has in its product range. Track cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes and BMX riders must be able to rely in a special way on their vehicles. And that is no problem thanks to modern synthetic rubber products. The same applies for wheelchair athletes, whether they compete in fencing, basketball, rugby, tennis or track-and-field. As with the running shoes, much is inspired by modern-day car tire technology, which has been lending remarkable properties to any number of sporting goods. The high-tech outer tire on wheelchair wheels, for example, does not leave black streaks or smears on gym floors thanks to the use of silica rather than carbon black in the material compound. What is more, the wheels are highly abrasion-resistant, offer especially good grip even in wet conditions, and reduce rolling resistance. Athletes want to be able to rely on the material, and LANXESS has the right solutions with its products.

Round is in

From soccer to beach volleyball and tennis, from wheelchair rugby to water polo: it’s the ball that is important in all these sports! Most athletes are not aware that they are actually running around after a bubble made of butyl rubber (BTR). But this synthetic rubber happens to be the material of choice for a variety of balls and a unique specialty product from LANXESS, because it is highly impermeable to moisture and gases like air. It therefore comes as little surprise that BTR is found in automotive tires, bicycle inner tubes and balls when it is crucial to keep the moisture out and the air in.

Inline skates, with rollers made of nitrile rubber from LANXESS, have better grip on pathways and roads than normal rollers. High-tech rubber products from LANXESS make competitive sports safer. Even the cores of golf balls have rubber innards made of polybutadiene rubber (PBR) from LANXESS, which makes them fly farther.

Peak performance even in the stands

Fans who do not take a seat in front of their living room television to follow a sporting event, but rather make their way to the stadium often sit on products from LANXESS. Durethan is the name of the range of polyamides frequently used to fabricate stadium seating. A polyamide seat can withstand the dynamic loads exerted by a fan sitting, jumping up, cheering and occasionally slumping back down in disappointment. A seat of this kind can bear up to 600 kilograms. And even when the weather adds to the excitement in the stands, the plastic shells prove to be more than tough. Hailstones, ice, rain, snow and hours of sun have no effect on the material. Injection-molded in a single shot, the seats also do not have any sharp edges or seams. And thanks to the combination of different LANXESS products, such as Macrolex, Levagard and Disflamoll, they can be designed in any color and made almost totally non-flammable.

On the right ground

Be it soccer, tennis or hockey, professional sports cannot be played on sub-standard surfaces. Thanks to artificial turf and modern hard courts, athletes will not have to fear any unpleasant surprises. Since the late 1980s, professional field hockey, for example, has been played exclusively on artificial turf. The advantages are unmistakable, especially in a sport like this with its heavy emphasis on technique: the ultra-smooth surface of the playing field permits a much faster game and better ball control. What is more, the games are not dependent on the weather. However, for the artificial turf to resist the wear and tear of weather and play, it must be made of the right materials. Polymers such as polypropylene have proven ideal for the artificial blades of grass, and to ensure that they stay green despite rain and sun, many manufacturers opt for Bayferrox or Colortherm inorganic pigments from LANXESS. Keltan granules are incorporated into some artificial turf surfaces, because this ethylene-propylene rubber (EPDM) makes the surface softer and reduces the risk of injury in the event of tackles.

Soft landing

Soft landings are also ensured by the many different mats used in everything from track-and-field and gymnastics to combat sports. Here again, either EPDM rubber or Levapren-brand ethylene vinyl acetate rubber are frequently the materials that protect athletes from hard falls. While EPDM rubber products are combined with other plastics to build competitive running tracks, Levapren is used for indoor floors, where it provides the dual protection of a non-skid surface and flame retardance.

Stadium architecture

One example of athletic architecture is the “Soccer City” stadium in Johannesburg used in the last soccer World Cup. Bayferrox iron oxide pigments from LANXESS are the added ingredients that give color to the stadium’s high-quality facade, constructed of fiber-glass-reinforced concrete panels. For the cladding of Africa’s largest stadium, the architects based their design on traditional forms and colors. The natural-looking colors of the 33,600 fiber-glass-reinforced concrete panels reflect the colors of traditional African earthenware pots. A total of some 22,000 kilograms of LANXESS pigments were used for the spectacular facade.

Functional clothing for aquatic sports

Some athletes could call their second skin a Baypren suit. Chemists refer to the material as chloroprene rubber or polychloroprene. An elastic all-arounder, Baypren from LANXESS keeps water skiers and divers warm in their suits even in icy waters.

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