The sports equipment manufacturing industry and its ancillary arms is annually worth around $300 billion worldwide. Additive manufacturing sporting goods has distinct advantages compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
3D Printed Sports Equipment
While many might be familiar with the various 3D printed sneakers by Adidas and New Balance, there are many applications outside of just wearables. Recent cases have propelled the technology towards more important developments within sports equipment manufacturing. In fact, the technology takes on some more complex goods and accessories, providing designs that would be otherwise impossible.
Here are some of the most interesting ways 3D printing is providing new possibilities for athletes and manufacturers:
Just like with racing-grade vehicles, what would seem like pedantic weight changes can be the difference between 1st and second place. This is especially the case with metal parts like bicycle frames, which is why Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sheffield University opted for a more novel approach. Using an Arcam DMLS system to sinter titanium handle bars, they were able to give the bicycle a perfect balance of durability and weight. This made the difference and allowed Wiggins to easily beat the UCI Hour record, which measures the furthest distance a rider can cycle within an hour.
It wasn’t just a case of lighter material density. The design also allowed them to give it a shape with better aerodynamics. “The key is to manage the airflow around the bike so the different components of the bike disrupt that flow as little as possible,” said James Hunt, a University of Sheffield Mercury Centre research associate and one of the developers of the 3D printed handlebars. “Because the handlebars hit the airflow first it’s absolutely critical to perfect that part of the design. 3D printing allows us to make shapes that optimise this aspect that would be very hard to achieve using other manufacturing techniques.”
Lighter footwear and guards are also increasingly common, allowing athletes to sprint faster. These not only improve speed but can also reduce the strain the body puts on itself while maintaining a standard of safety. It also benefits manufacturers because it can severely reduce material wastage and improve production times.
Looking to put a personal twist on your equipment? Companies like French brand Grismont can customize 3D printed sporting goods to your exact specs. They provide unique and tailor-made golf clubs in all sorts of colors with insignias and casings. Of course, while this is more of a luxury concept, customization can also be crucial. Nowhere is this more apparent than with athletes who have disabilities.
Similar to the bicycle case mentioned previously, the paralympic athlete Florian Jouanny also utilized lighter 3D printed handle bars although with certain difference. Aside from being lighter, they also made using the bicycle easier for use, tailoring it to his specifications. The team at Athletic 3D scanned and measured the level of force he was applying and adapted the design accordingly.
The 2012 Paralympic games also used 3D printed seats for wheelchair basketball, individually customizing each for the athletes so that they are optimised for their body shape and movement. The Great Britain wheelchair basket ball team used these products and managed to reach fourth position. Another case comes from Arielle Rausin, who designs and prints her own set of wheelchair racing gloves. She scans her hand as a digital file and printing custom fit 3D printed plastic racing gloves. In both cases customization decreases discomfort and caters to exact body specifications, which can be crucial for disabled athletes. The same goes for wheelchairs and prosthetics, which are also more economically efficient to print.
Better Safeguards & Accessories
Companies like Austrian startup Zweikampf have carved out a niche for themselves with 3D printed sports equopment. The company provides shin guards for soccer players, most famously supplying these protective products to Austrian players. Similarly, Cavendish Imaging aided multiple English soccer players in building more comfortable protective masks for training and safer play. These sorts of measures are more robust and severely save the downtime players have to undergo due to injury or strain.
Similarly, football players are famously prone to on-field injury, particular head trauma. Carbon has tried to mitigate such injuries by 3D printing helmet liners for Riddell’s smart helmets. They manufactured it using their “Diamond technology”, creating lattice design pads out of resin, custom fitting the player’s dimensions and position.
Even aside from safety, 3D printing sports equipment brings in some extra utility. The Hydra-Guard is a great example. This small mouthpiece allows athletes to keep hydrated during exercise, providing water without the use of their hands. The use of 3D printing was instrumental in its production and prototyping, providing the pouch that stores the water.
From running to football to fencing, 3D printing is innovating the manufacturing of sporting goods. The convenience, customization and quality is drawing more and more companies towards it. As the technology gains more traction, we expect to see more athletes sporting additively manufactured accessories.
Featured images courtesy of Zweikampf, University of Sheffield, Pinarello & Arielle Rausin.