Artec Leo helps Vorteq create the world’s fastest cycling skinsuits

By Matthew McMillion

Summary: A sports-focused R&D company chose 3D scanning for creating custom, perfectly-fitting aerodynamic skinsuits for cyclists of all levels.

The Goal: To use a handheld 3D scanner to scan a cyclist’s entire body in six minutes or less, then use that scan to design one of the world’s fastest skinsuits.

Tools Used: Artec Leo, Geomagic Wrap

In the world of high-performance cycling, speed is everything. And even if you’re racing on an indoor track with controlled conditions, you’re going to be battling wind resistance and drag every turn of the pedals. With up to 90% of a cyclist’s energy output being spent to overcome air resistance, reducing drag is paramount. In terms of professional riders and serious hobbyists, there’s comparatively little to be gained from spending what could easily be ten thousand dollars and up on a more aerodynamic bike. With the rider’s body being responsible for roughly 80% of the drag, and their bike the remaining 20%, it makes far more sense to focus on the rider, their biomechanics in various riding positions, their training, and especially, their clothing.

A rider in the wind tunnel at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub

Vorteq is making use of a full-sized, sports-dedicated wind tunnel, a custom fabric wind tunnel, and the latest in 3D scanning technology to create custom skinsuits for cyclists. A skinsuit is essentially the most aerodynamic piece of clothing a rider can wear, reducing their level of drag down below that of being naked. A quality skinsuit should also be comfortable, lightweight, breathable, and made specifically for the athlete wearing it. Otherwise they’re bound to fit improperly and wrinkle up, and in the world of aerodynamics, every wrinkle adds to performance-killing drag. As well, many fabrics “open up” when overstretched, introducing greater drag across their surfaces, so fabrics and seams should be chosen carefully for specific areas of the body, with each skinsuit designed and manufactured to have the exact amount of fabric tension for that particular rider’s anatomy, to achieve optimum airflow and the least wind resistance. Considering how body shapes and sizes of cyclists can differ so dramatically, such a customized fit simply isn’t possible with an off-the-shelf, small-medium-large type of skinsuit.

The Vorteq-wearing Huub Wattbike team brought home three golds, two silvers, and three bronzes at the British National Cycling Championships in Manchester, UK, January 2020.

Vorteq’s parent company, TotalSim, has deep experience from working closely with professional cyclists, Olympic cycling teams, Tour de France riders, and other top cyclists over the past 10 years. This has made it possible for Vorteq to create what they believe to be the fastest skinsuits available today. To engineer their skinsuits beyond what was ever possible in the past, Vorteq has invested in excess of $500,000 in R&D, while testing more than 45,000 different material, tension, and speed combinations in the specialized wind tunnels at Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub (SSEH). The end result is every athlete receives their own skinsuit, created with custom patterns and fabrics, each designed for maximum performance.

Designing and creating Vorteq skinsuits

Despite Vorteq’s lengthy work exclusively with Olympic teams and other elite athletes, as of January 1st, 2020, their custom skinsuits are available to serious riders of all levels of experience. This means that any cyclist, not just the pros, now has the chance to get a custom Vorteq skinsuit, and when they’re sprinting towards the finish line, they’ll be wearing the same level of skinsuit technology as if they were one of Vorteq's Olympic clients.

To create these custom skinsuits, the use of a 3D scanner is a crucial element for digitally capturing a rider’s exact anatomy, and in the hours that follow those few minutes of scanning, all the sizes, patterns, and types of fabric will be meticulously selected in the computational draping system and then assembled by Vorteq’s skinsuit team.

In the past, TotalSim was using an arm-based scanner for scanning race cars, bicycles, and other objects, but when it came to using the scanner for capturing people, they ran into significant difficulties and weren’t able to proceed any further with their old technology.

That’s when Vorteq turned to Artec Ambassador Central Scanning, specialists in all aspects of 3D scanning. During an onsite visit and consultation, the experts at Central Scanning recommended the Artec Leo, a revolutionary handheld 3D scanner with a built-in touchscreen and up to 80 fps capture rate, as well as being an entirely cable-free scanner that excels at capturing medium-sized objects such as people in mere minutes. TotalSim had used two Artec scanners in the past for their CFD and metrology work, Artec Eva and Artec Spider, so they were already familiar with Artec’s high level of scanning technology.

Artec Leo 3D scanner with Artec Studio software displaying scan of rider at Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub

When Sam Quilter and his colleagues at Vorteq saw how fast and accurately Leo captured the exact anatomy of a cyclist, they knew they had found the right tool for the job. In the hours after taking delivery of their new Leo, they began creating their digital capture workflow, which Quilter described as follows:

“The rider comes into the wind tunnel with their bike, mounts it in place on the platform, hops on, and in just 5 to 6 minutes with Leo, I capture the rider in two positions in precise, high-resolution color 3D. And then I need just another minute to capture their shoe, on all sides,” Quilter said. “Basically this means that in ten minutes I can be totally done with that rider and they can go elsewhere. I’ve got everything I need to design an anatomically-accurate, fast-as-a-bullet Vorteq skinsuit. No chance of a rescan needed. Not once.”

Metrology Engineer Sam Quilter 3D scans a rider with Artec Leo

Quilter continued, “We usually scan cyclists in their underwear, to get as much detail of the body as possible, so that when we design the skinsuits, they lay down perfectly over that cyclist’s anatomy in a way that just isn’t attainable if we’re designing from a scan that includes some overlying fabric blocking exact anatomical structures from view.”

3D scanning a rider with Artec Leo at Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub

“When we’re making our skinsuits, we’re working directly from the Leo scans, so it’s not measurements we're taking, it's the exact physical data that’s being used, and the difference is crucial. Because if you’re taking physical measurements and then entering them into a CAD system, or a computational draping system like ours, something is going to be lost in the transition. And that something can easily result in imprecise dimensions being used to create a skinsuit, which is entirely unacceptable to us. Even one tiny mismeasurement could result in a wrinkle here or there, or fabric being overstretched. So, for us, how Leo gives us the exact physical data of the athlete to work with makes all the difference.

Quilter summarized the process, “From the time an athlete walks in the door and we start scanning with Leo, then using Artec Studio to post-process the scans, followed by 3D modeling work in Geomagic Wrap, and finally exporting the 3D model for use in making a skinsuit, we are looking at about 2 hours total, which absolutely wasn’t possible in the past, not even close. And as far as the total production time for a skinsuit that’s ready to race, currently we’re at 2 days, but that gap is narrowing, and we’re shooting for a 24-hour turnaround time, which we’re sure to hit before too long.”

3D scanning a rider in the Sports Performance Wind Tunnel at SSEH

Quilter explained his post-processing workflow in Artec Studio, “Leo makes it easy for me. Not many steps are needed in Artec Studio at all. I basically read the Leo data in, double-check everything visually, then use the Eraser tool for a few clicks to remove any occasional, unwanted bits. I normally keep the bike in the scan, since it’s a great reference point to get XYZ positioning as well as the angle, and then I go into Global Registration, where I just use the default settings because they work brilliantly as is. Normally I don’t need to do Outlier Removal, because the data is already clean enough for a person. Then I do a Smooth Fusion, and after a few other minor changes, I export it as an STL file for use in Geomagic Wrap.”

“In Geomagic Wrap, I use the Decimate tool to get the triangle count down further, and if I’m getting rid of any wrinkles, which shouldn’t be in the scan, but on a very rare occasion might be, I use the Relax command, and then I move on to the Smooth commands, which let me cut out any imperfections, because sometimes athletes twitch their fingers during the scanning, and we need to fix that. After we’ve done all we need to do, we export it as an OBJ file for use in our computational draping software,” Quilter said.

Vorteq’s newest offering is that of using their Leo to create scans for 3D printing anatomically-precise mannequins of athletes. These mannequins are then used to create new skinsuits for the athletes without them having to visit the Vorteq office. Let’s say, for example, that a cyclist is training on the other side of the world and needs a skinsuit specifically for an upcoming long-distance time trial that’s mostly on the flats but also includes a long downhill phase. By having a 3D mannequin of the athlete, Vorteq can create a custom skinsuit for them, test multiple fabrics and patterns in its wind tunnels, and craft the new skinsuit in the hours that follow, then express deliver it to them on the other side of the world, or anywhere. At present, the custom mannequin process takes just under 2 days, but that number is decreasing with each passing week. The target turnaround time is 24 hours from 3D scan to completion for creating a new 3D-printed mannequin.

Vorteq mannequin components ready for assembly and wind tunnel use

Quilter spoke about the why behind 3D-printed mannequins, “A full-sized mannequin lets us do wind tunnel tests on fabrics in isolation on just an arm, for example, to see how various fabrics and patterns affect drag reduction. That’s where the marginal gains really add up. Because with a live rider in the wind tunnel, there’s going to be the wiggle factor to deal with, where the rider is moving around, even ever so slightly, and that’s going to affect results. With a live rider, you can never have the exact measurement possible with a perfectly still mannequin, where the only factor that’s changed is the fabric that’s been put on.”

“Mannequins don’t get tired, and they’re always perfectly still, which allows us to know exactly what kinds of changes our fabrics and designs are causing in terms of drag and performance.”

TotalSim also provides biomechanical consultation and training for cyclists and teams, advising athletes on which body positions, equipment adjustments, riding habits, and clothing will either enhance or diminish their power, drag, endurance, and more.

The Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub Sports Performance Wind Tunnel

“Our mission is to help serious athletes, many of whom are already at the top of their game or near, find those many ‘tiny’ gains that when you add them all together, can really give an athlete the kind of edge that helps them surge over the top and on to victory,” Quilter said.

In addition to Vorteq’s skinsuits and TotalSim’s biomechanical consulting and training services, they also provide scanning services to a range of clients, including cycling teams. Their Leo has played a pivotal role in their ability to 3D scan anywhere their projects lead them, whether in-house, around the UK, or overseas.

As Quilter explained, “In contrast to our previous scanners, Leo gives us that flexibility to just pick up and go virtually anywhere in the world to do scanning, without requiring extra hardware, just the Leo itself. This kind of freedom is tremendous when you’re going offsite to random locations that aren’t exactly laboratories in regards to their conditions.”