Xenia Materials, hi-tech thermoplastic composites for sport’s future

The Italian brand, based in the northern Italy, Vicenza province, produces thermoplastic compounds reinforced with fibres, which find application in ski boots, sports footwear and bicycle components of the most famous world brands.

From the sky onto the snow, from the snow onto the land and the streets, the mission of Xenia Materials, Italian firm established in 1995 in Mussolente, is to transfer the aerospace know-how directly into the sport system industry, where the same performances in terms of speed and lightness are required. This is how the core business of the hi-tech brand, specialised in the engineering and in the production of thermoplastic composites reinforced fibres and additives, has moved from helicopters to ski boots, trekking, alpinism and cycling shoes and bicycles components.
The technique, which is behind the applications, consists in the metal replacement: lightweight and resilient materials replace the efficient, but heavy, ones. The reinforced compound materials are born because plastic is undoubtedly the easiest option, but weight reduction is directly proportional to strength reduction.
So, if in the aeronautic industry all this works, why can’t the know-how be brought into the outdoor sport world? This was the story of the all-new Ortles Salewa Couloir technical mountaineering boot that won the 2021 ISPO Gold Award and uses a composite toe box made by the Vicenza-based company. For cross-country skiers there are the Salomon S/Race Carbon Skate Prolink shoes, where Xenia has intervened on the cuff and on the heel reinforcement plate.

There are many plastics, as well as many ways to use the fibres. Xenia’s R&D manager, Cristian Zanchetta, states that «Thermosetting and thermoplastic materials are both used in ski boots. The first kind of materials generate, for instance, a boot cuff. This component is obtained through a non-reversible (it can’t go back to the initial state) chemical transformation between carbon tissues and reticulated epoxy resin, for the effect of heat and pressure. On the other hand, with thermoplastic composites, the ones that Xenia produces, the baseline materials are formed by plastic granules in which the fibre is soaked. The components’ production process sees the melted granules injected into a mould where the hot and liquid material solidifies, thanks to the cold surface, in the mould’s geometry. In this case the transformation process regards a passage of physical state, therefore it is reversible». Thermoplastic composites, the common plastic that forms a ski boot shell and cuff or the midsole of a bicycle shoe, are available in different types: polyamides, polyolefin, TPU, PEBA are the most popular ones. However, the polymeric base granules could be reinforced with fibres in order to modify their mechanical properties. It is here that Xenia Materials comes into play.
The firm, that applied thermoplastic composites reinforced carbon fibre to helicopter components, has carried out, in 2013, a game-changer application. Following the request of Atomic, Xenia Materials has created a thermoplastic cuff reinforced carbon fibre for the Redster boot, making it lighter and six times stronger than the original cuff realized in simple thermoplastic. The thermosetting materials are, furthermore, expensive and do not allow the standardization of the production. On the contrary, the production of thermoplastic composites, after the final set-up, is constant and repetitive, it guarantees uniform standards and the secondary raw materials can be re-grounded and re-used.

In Mussolente’s facility all Xenia’s materials are produced: XECARB® thermoplastic composites reinforced carbon fibre, XEGLASS™ thermoplastic composites reinforced glass fibre, XEBRID™ thermoplastic composites reinforced mixed fibres, XECARB®SL super-light thermoplastic composites reinforced carbon fibre, XECARB®HMthermoplastic composites reinforced high-modulus carbon fibre and the brand new XELIGHT™ lightened thermoplastic composites. These acronyms help to catalogue dozens of options, because Xenia’s strength lies indeed in customization. The only two constant factors are the polymeric matrixes and the fibres purchased in Japan. The kind of polymeric matrix and the percentage of reinforcement are chosen based on the client’s needs and, after that, all the production phase of tests and samples starts in the internal area.

« Since 2013, thanks to the Redster boot, it has opened up a whole new world and the sport system has become our core business. There is still so much to invent, because applications in the footwear industry go beyond imagination » states Fabio Azzolin, Xenia Materials’ CEO.

Nowadays the main applications regard ski boots cuffs, midsoles for cycling, alpinism and trekking shoes, seat posts, bicycle bottle cages and electronic groupsets, however, it has been recently detected a constant growing of interest for running and trail running shoes’ midsoles.

For all these reasons Xenia has developed a new division: Xenia Footwear Materials Lab, the laboratory that offers a full service to outdoor footwear manufacturers. Xenia Footwear Materials Lab follows the client form the materials choice to the co-design, testing and prototyping phases, until the engineering of the production and simulation of the behaviour of the footwear in specific conditions.

As opposed to the thermoset materials, created with a non-reversible process and very difficult to dispose of, new solutions with thermoplastic recycled bases are being studied in Xenia.

The “green” challenge consists in the creation of new materials using secondary raw materials and thermoplastic bases with a great percentage of vegetal origin, like PEBAs which are realized form castor oil.
Beside all this, the future could strike in a more surprising way, thanks to the wearable technology. Carbon, in combination with other additives, has electric and thermal conductivity and the new smart materials could register different factors and adapt to the conditions and the users. For instance, a ski boot could be fully exploited according to the kind of snow, slope, temperature and skier. Here in Mussolente, this journey has already started and who knows where it could lead to.

Different brands have already chosen Xenia Materials ingredients for their best products, among them there are: Salomon, Atomic, Alpina, Dalbello, Salewa, Vittoria, Tecnica, Nordica, Crispi and Roxa.