Sunday, February 19, 2017

Oh, patents! Fastskin swimsuits (2)

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

The amazing Speedo® tech swimsuits are not without a bit of controversy!

The Speedo® fastskin swimsuits were first used at the Summer 200O Olympics, in Sidney Australia, where the Australian swimming team wearing the suits won 8 gold medals!  The Speedo® tech suits were then caught in a large sportswear controversy, culminating in 2010 with the FINA (Fédération International de Natation - International Swimming Federation) ban on the use of all non-textile, buoyant polyurethane swimming suits, in all competitions, and in 2015, with a ban on the use of suits covering the whole body (for men covering the torso, and for women covering below the knees). The grounds on which FINA upheld that it is “the athlete’s performance that counts in swimming” are perhaps more contested than those of the high costs of engineered suits, manufactured by large sports companies, which create an uneven playing field (Barrow, 2012; Scientific American; Steinbach, 2005).

The Speedo® Fastskin swimsuits are however approved and used for competitive swimming, while the pressure mounts from large sportswear companies for less stringent rules on the use tech fabrics for swimming. 
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In Fiona Fairhurst’s own terms, shark skin was her inspiration! No wonder, since sharks can torpedo swim for food at 60 MPH! However, against all possible intuitions about the correlations between the texture of skin and speed, it turns out that rough skin rather than smooth skin, promotes speed, just like shark’s skin which is very rough!  

Fastskin swimsuits help competitive swimmers by reducing drag (i.e.; the resistance to a fluid or fluid friction) against the water, and the amount of water entry between a suit and the body, which also causes increased drag.  Thus, the suits are made of a knitted elasticated fabric that is less water absorbent.  More importantly, the panels of fabric and the position of the seams are researched according to muscle anatomy and activity, both to create compression and to also prevent water entry by making the fabric even more high-tension fitting on the body. Seams are thus used to both reduce the stretchability of the fabric, and to increase tensioned fit in specific areas, such as the lower back and abdominal areas. The tighter tensioned fit of the fabric, resulting in muscle compression, also causes less muscle vibration, which otherwise uses more oxygen, causing more fatigue and drag. 

In addition to the researched position of seams and paneling of the fabric, Fastskin suits include ridges in the fabric called “surface flow modifiers”. These structures, placed longitudinally to the body, on the surface of the suit, are designed to create turbulence which reduces the overall amount of drag.   

For the many aspects of the Fastskin swimsuit invention, Fiona Fairhurst and her colleagues are the recipients of at least 26 US, Australian, German, British and Austrian patents listed below:

AU20017234000 (A) ― 2001-06-21 - Articles of clothing
AU2002100223 (A4) ― 2002-05-02 - Articles of clothing
AU2005248944 (A1) ― 2006-02-02 - Articles of clothing 
AU2009200188 (A1) ― 2009-02-12 - Articles of clothing 
DE60007002 (T2) ― 2004-06-03 - Swimsuit 
EP1110464 (A3) ― 2001-08-16 - Articles of clothing
EP1250858 (A1) ― 2002-10-23 - Close fitting article of clothing with highly tensioned fit
EP1110464 (B1) ― 2008-07-16 – Swimsuit 
ES2207626 (T3) ― 2004-06-01 – Swimsuit
ES2310510 (T3) ― 2009-01-16 -Swimsuit 
GB2361409 (A) ― 2001-10-24 - Close-fitting garment - e.g. swimsuit - consisting of panels of fabric joined by flat seams
GB2361409 (B) ― 2003-11-26 – Swimsuits
GB2411816 (A) ― 2005-09-14 - Surface flow modifiers and swimsuits 
US2001014981 (A1) ― 2001-08-23 - Articles of clothing  
US6446264 (B2) ― 2002-09-10 - Articles of clothing
USD456111 (S) ― 2002-04-30 - Garment 
USD456110 (S) ― 2002-04-30 - Garment  
USD456109 (S) ― 2002-04-30 – Garment
USD456588 (S) ― 2002-05-07 – Garment
USD460242 (S) ― 2002-07-16 – Garment
USD461034 (S) ― 2002-08-06 – Garment
USD462154 (S) ― 2002-09-03 - Garment 
USD461033 (S) ― 2002-08-06 – Garment
USD541008 (S) ― 2007-04-24 - Swimming costume
AT255338 (T) ― 2003-12-15 - Swimsuit 
AT401012 (T) ― 2008-08-15 - Swimsuit 

References
Speedo USA
Scientific American – Swimsuit controversy… again!
Steinbach, P. (2005)
Barrow, J. (7-25- 2012) Why ban full-body Olympic swimsuits: A scientist explains polyurethane – The Daily Beast
FINA-approved swimwear
http://www.fina.org/content/fina-approved-swimwear

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