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Wrapping the Olympic Games

November 1st, 2012 / By: / Graphics

This summer’s Olympic Games debuted many new sustainable initiatives, not the least being the most sustainable venues for the games on record, many aided by specialty fabrics used in roofs, interiors and signage. The graphically vibrant fabric wrap to the Olympic Stadium is one of the most interesting examples.

As a major American corporate sponsor of the Olympics, the Dow Chemical Co. was committed to the rigorous sustainability and environmental standards set by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympics and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). A collaboration between the Cooley Group and Rainier Industries with Dow was formed to meet the fire, sustainability and performance requirements mandated by the LOCOG. Dow and Cooley chemists worked together on a high-performance PVC-free fabric coated with resins made by Dow that were durable, printable, fire retardant and recyclable.

The innovative product that resulted from this team effort is based on the latest generation of Dow elastomers that are 35 percent lighter than earlier similar materials and have a lower carbon footprint due to the improved manufacturing procedures that required fewer processes and chemicals. The product, a coated polyethylene fabric, is now part of Cooley’s Enviroflex™ line.

Dow turned to Rainier Industries to print and fabricate the Olympics wrap panels, a 56-hue color scale of banners that encircled the stadium. “This became one of those breakthrough jobs in so many ways,” says Bruce Dickinson, Rainier vice president. “It broke new ground in terms of the fabric and manufacturing and in terms of the ability to combine color and print on fabric.”

As Cooley and Dow developed new test samples, they sent them to Rainier for testing, an intense process that took almost eight months. Fabrication of the 306 hourglass-shaped Olympic Stadium panels—each 90 feet tall by 8 feet wide—took 45 days to complete.

Rainier printed the vibrant panels on Durst print equipment using UV-curable inks to decrease emissions and to eliminate VOCs during the printing process. “We shipped 50 to 60 panels a week to London,” says Dickinson. “Each panel weighed in at about 150 pounds.” To work the fabric banner panels through the printers, Rainier had four operators on each panel. “We had to really work with the printers to get adhesion on the material,” Dickinson says. “It was untested fabric, so an enormous amount of testing was involved.”

Now that the Olympic Games are over, many of the London sport venues will be repurposed or dismantled and recycled in part or whole. Dow announced after the Olympics closing ceremonies that they would recycle and repurpose the entire stadium wrap. “In terms of repurposing,” says Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi, Dow’s technical director of Olympic operations, “all of the stadium wrap will either be recycled or reused.” Two re-use projects already are slated—in Uganda and Rio de Janeiro—as shade shelters for at-risk children.

Bruce Wright is editor of Fabric Architecture and Fabric Graphics publications of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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