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carbon fiber Image: Covestro

Carbon Fiber Steps Up Game in Basketball Shoe

Continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites enable high-performance components for sports shoes.

Anta Sports Products, a leading Chinese sportswear company, has launched KT6 – the latest generation of the signature sneaker of NBA all-star Klay Thompson. Available for sale in China and some Southeast Asian countries, the basketball shoe features a variety of material technologies, including a carbon-fiber shank made of Covestro’s Maezio thermoplastic composites for midfoot support and a smooth transition from heel to toe.

Maezio is a brand of continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites that enable high-performance components for the footwear industry, among many other applications. These strong and lightweight materials provide superior stiffness without adding much weight to shoe parts, such as the midsole, toe kick, and shank. The shank is a supporting structure in the shoe that runs beneath the arch of the foot.

“The excellent properties of carbon-fiber composites can significantly improve the torsional stiffness of basketball shoes and help smooth the transition from heel to toe,” says Anson Zheng, Senior Director of Anta’s basketball category and designer of KT6. “The carbon-fiber shank, together with the highly responsive midsole and shock-absorbing module on the heel, make the KT6 a truly high-performance kick on the court.”

In this latest KT silhouette, the X-shaped shank must be very thin to meet weight specifications, but also strong enough to fulfill the torsional requirements. Maezio composites offer not only stiffness at low density, but also a great deal of design freedom — the material can be stacked layer by layer at different angles to form sheets that are tailored to specific performance and mechanical criteria. For the design of the Anta shank, the orientation of the carbon fiber has been optimized to provide high stability, while the thickness is limited to just one-millimeter to achieve a lightweight feel.

Thompson is expected to wear the KT6 in the upcoming 2020–21 NBA season, which is not expected to start before Christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The KT6 is expected to be the top-selling product in the KT series. For this reason, Anta requires a carbon-fiber composite material that is easy and efficient to process even on a larger scale. As thermoplastics, Maezio composites can be thermoformed efficiently at high yield rates and low cycle times, which is associated with cost reductions for millions of parts per year. The principle recyclability of the material, thanks to its thermoplastic matrix, offers added value for footwear brands that want to focus more on sustainability.

Covestro has been collaborating with Anta even before the development of the KT6. The team supported the sporting goods company in the design of carbon-fiber midsoles for a running and another basketball shoe, which Anta developed as part of its product range in the run-up to the worldwide athletic competition in 2022.

“We’re very excited to support Anta in the design and development of its brand-new athletic shoes by contributing our material expertise in composites,” says Lisa Ketelsen, head of the thermoplastic composites business of Covestro. “We see Maezio as a material that enables efficient mass production of high-performance parts in a diverse range of applications, including footwear. Another advantage is that the material can be adapted to the desired performance and different production sizes, and offers great value creation across industries.”

Anta owns a number of world-leading brands through frequent acquisitions. A consortium led by the company completed the purchase of Finnish sporting goods company Amer Sports in 2019, making Anta a globally leading sportswear maker by revenue.

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