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New 3D printing materials deliver sophisticated sports equipment

Advances in the overall sophistication and quality of 3D printing materials have opened a number of doors for the technology, and inspired new industries to explore where it could be applied. This includes industries where all the materials used must be of highly specific mechanical and/or chemical qualities (medical, defence, and aerospace, for example), both to meet the required standards of performance, and to avoid unnecessary injury or death.

Another area where 3D printing technologies are slowly but surely establishing themselves is the production of professional-quality sports equipment. High-quality 3D printing materials enable the production of equipment that not only helps athletes deliver their best, but also helps them avoid injury as much as possible.

Some excellent examples of this include:

  • Cascade Lacrosse’s use of an industrial desktop printer by Lulzbot to enhance its prototyping capabilities, utilising a 3D printing filament that mimics the ideal material behaviour of an actual lacrosse helmet. Also in the field of lacrosse, students at the University of Bath have experimented with printing their own lacrosse sticks, for use by the university’s own team.
  • The 3D-printed surfboard created by Proto3000, in partnership with Red Bull. This project utilised 3D modelling to create a board that would suit the highly specific requirements of a professional surfer, then used 3D printing to make sure these dimensions were perfectly captured in the finished product. The material used was ABS-M30 — a production-quality thermoplastic.
  • The Enable Community Foundation’s design challenge to 3D print sporting prosthetics. This competition asked readers to submit their designs for printable prosthetics that could be use for sporting applications — a clever use of the technology, considering amputees will ideally have different prosthetics for different applications. As these are typically quite expensive and time-consuming to produce, 3D printing makes such parts accessible and affordable at last.  
  • Adidas’ 3D printed shoe, the Futurecraft 3D. This project not only had huge implications for how we will produce footwear in the future, but also utilised a relatively new 3D printing process called continuous liquid interface production. The long-term plan is to use 3D printing for both production (large- and small-scale) and one-off custom shoes.
  • The 3D-printed cleats used by the Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber. These were designed to Corey’s exact specifications, to accommodate the exact way his feet land when throwing a pitch, helping him maintain smoother, more consistent form and avoid twisting his ankle.

 

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, it’s very encouraging to see creative new applications for additive manufacturing technologies, and the continued evolution of 3D printing materials to meet sector-specific challenges.