Southpointe-based business helps Speedo swimsuit line speed up
July 22, 2012 8:00 AM
U.S. Olympic champion Michael Phelps uses gear from Speedo's Fastskin3 swimwear line.
An Ansys simulation of the forces experienced when diving. At left is an older version of the female swim cap. The Fastskin3 Cap, right, with hair management system, shapes hair for significantly improved hydrodynamics. Ansys used similar simulations to help Speedo design optimal racing swimsuits.
By Deborah M. Todd Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Swimsuits designed by Speedo with help from Southpointe-based simulation software company Ansys might not make U.S. Olympic swimmers fast enough to get banned from this year's Olympic games, but the outfits should give them a slight edge nonetheless.
Coming off the 2008 controversy where Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuits boosted performance so much that swimmers wearing them set 23 new Olympic records, Ansys has teamed up with Speedo yet again to outfit this year's gold medal hopefuls.
The companies are moving with care.
The original LZR Racer design was banned by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in 2009 -- after the last Olympics -- for what was called "technological doping."
The newly released Speedo Fastskin Racing System applies new tweaks that maximize swimmer performance but fits within all of FINA's rules and has already been used in Olympic trials.
Spectators can expect to see U.S. Olympic champions such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin, as well as others from across the globe, wearing Fastskin Racing System products in London.
Since their introduction in November, Fastskin products have already helped Mr. Phelps through several meets as well as Team USA Olympic trials, where he qualified for eight Olympic events.
British champion swimmer Rebecca Adlington wore the Fastskin3 Cap, Fastskin3 Elite Goggle and Fastskin3 during the British Gas Championship, where she earned her space on Britain's Olympic team.
"The most important element is always the athlete wearing the suit, but technology can undoubtedly help a swimmer make the most of their attributes, and feel more comfortable and confident in the pool," said an email response from a Speedo representative.
The contribution from Ansys, which makes simulation software that's used on everything from cars to weapons, allowed testing even before the swimsuits were made.
The new 19-product line features caps, goggles and suits all designed using Computational Fluid Dynamics Simulations, a technique that allowed Speedo to analyze the suit's friction in water, or its drag, as well as other performance qualities.
Gone are the banned low-drag polyurethane panels that critics say made the LZR Racer illegal.
Rather than adding new features to traditional suits, the Fastskin System aims to transform the swimmer's body into the ideal shape through the correct combination of suits, caps and goggles. After months of research and more than 1,200 simulations to pinpoint where the suit applies compression to create a better body shape, Speedo and Ansys were able to come up with caps and goggles that complemented the suit.
"Using Ansys simulation, Speedo was able to understand how every square centimeter of the suit performed in terms of drag," said Stephen Silvester, Ansys consulting services engineer. "Measuring the performance of a suit in reality is difficult and expensive. Speedo [was] then able to design targeted improvements based on knowledge that was simply not available using conventional experimental techniques."
The idea of using CFD Simulations isn't something custom-created to suit the needs of Speedo. Ansys has also used the simulation to help examine drag and efficiency to create the optimal boating design for America's Cup yacht races in 2007.
The new swimsuits range in price from as low as $52 for the Fastskin3 FSII Brief to around $395 for the Fastskin 3 Super Elite High Waisted Jammer.
The products are available for all Olympic athletes.
Although Speedo's initial simulation led to technology that might have worked a little too well, there's no denying the popularity of the original design, which Ansys helped to create. The swimsuit company says the modified version of the LZR Racer, the LZR Racer Elite, is still available and could be seen in Olympic pools this year alongside the Fastskin products.
Whether swimmers choose Speedo's older releases, most recent creations or other high-tech swimsuits to reach for the gold, company officials say new and improved designs will only encourage others to dive into the sport.