How 3D printed sports equipment is changing the game
Today, additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing, as it is more commonly known, is widely used in the healthcare and medical, fashion, aerospace and industrial sectors. automotive, and the adoption of the technology in the world of sports is expected to increase as well. .
With the high level of speed, accuracy and functionality achievable in products made by industrial 3D printing companies such as ProtoLabs, there are huge opportunities to bring exciting new benefits to all sports disciplines. We take a look at some of the most significant ways 3D printed sports gear is already upping its game.
Greater customization of sports shoes
Due to the precision of the products achievable using additive manufacturing, there is an increased level of customization possible for sports equipment. One of the key areas where it has already made its mark is footwear. Although we’ll have to wait to see the fully 3D-printed sneaker, elements of a running shoe have already been made using technology to improve comfort and performance.
Midsoles are one of the most popular shoe parts to be 3D printed so far. Using materials such as Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), the parts are designed for maximum strength, flexibility and durability to improve shock absorption and elasticity. Adidas has notably used AM to create running shoes for its mesh midsoles for its Futurecraft 4D shoes. The structure of the midsole has been designed to promote responsive cushioning, shock absorption and rebound. According to Adidas, “the midsole is designed to compress forward under load and counteract mechanical forces while providing a unique gliding feel to our runners.”
Nike also began working with the technology in 2013, producing a 3D-printed plate for its Vapor Laser Talon football boots, and in 2014 used Selective Laser Sintering (or SLS, a form of 3D printing that sinters small polymer particles to form a strong structure) for its Vapor HyperAgility Cleat, allowing for maximum speed and traction on the soccer field.
Sports equipment for Paralympic athletes
The great customization possibilities of 3D printing have also helped in the field of sports equipment for Paralympians. During the 2012 Paralympic Games, 3D printed seats for wheelchairs were used for the first time in basketball competitions. To achieve optimal design, exact measurements of an athlete’s body were taken to tailor the seat design to precise specifications. Lightweight wheelchairs and bespoke prostheses have also been produced, as well as artificial limbs to meet the specific needs of each player.
Safety sports equipment
By their very nature, all sports test the limits of human physical abilities, so safety plays an important role, and 3D printing is starting to do that as well. Helmets are an essential form of safety equipment in games such as American football, rugby, cycling, water sports and many more. The use of 3D-printed mesh structures proves particularly useful in providing greater comfort and better distribution of pressure during impacts. Likewise, mouth guards can be printed using video scans of the upper jaw for a precise fit, and shin guards also make their mark. In 2016, the Austrian company, Zweikampf produced the world’s first mass-printed shin guards which have been dubbed one of the most technically advanced shin guards ever produced. Weighing just 75g with a thickness of 7mm, they are custom printed to a player’s unique shin scan and are designed with a Y-pattern on the front of the pad, which distributes the impact across the pad shell for high impact protection.
Personalization of sports equipment
Not only is 3D printing effective for security, but it also opens the door to wider possibilities when it comes to customization. A new case, a new specialized logo or a new color are all possible. But customization isn’t just about style. You can also customize sports equipment such as golf clubs and tennis rackets to improve grip and performance. For example, golf clubs can now be made quickly using 3D metal printing. There are many variables when it comes to the characteristics of a golf club: angle, groove design and weight all play a part. With the ability to rapidly produce prototypes with AM, various iterations can be achieved, ultimately leading to greater potential for experimentation and innovation.
The sports industry, like any other, will always be looking for ways to improve results, be it safety, performance or comfort. But that’s not just where 3D printing helps. With the universal capabilities of additive manufacturing technology, sports brands, businesses, and anyone associated with producing products for industry will be able to reap the benefits of durability and affordability, faster lead times, and the convenience of on-site printing in the future. For 3D printing, the kickoff has only just begun.