Dubbed by some as the next industrial revolution, 3D printing is having a major impact on many industries, from construction and manufacturing to healthcare, dentistry, and aerospace – to name just a few. Its impact has also been seen in sports, however. In a fairly short time, the technology has proven to be useful in helping teams gain an edge on the competition, as well as in preventing player injuries and making sports as fair as possible.
When it comes to gaining a competitive edge through 3D printing, Formula 1 racing may offer the best example. In this sport, milliseconds can be the difference between victory and defeat, and having the best-performing car is as crucial as the talent of the driver behind the wheel. This means parts with the slightest defects or imperfections need to be replaced as quickly as possible, and with 3D printing, this can happen. Complex, precision parts can be printed even during a race and replaced at the next pit stop.
Track and field is also a competitive sport in which milliseconds can determine a winner, and it just so happens that the technology has come into play here, too. Specifically, Nike has developed a special, 3D-printed shoe for former Olympic and World Champion Allyson Felix. The shoe is designed to give the runner a firmer grip and better control on the track (especially when negotiating turns), and also provides better stability. It is entirely 3D printed and modifications can be made freely and quickly when needed.
New, lighter resin is also helping soccer players with thinner and more impact-resistant shin guards. Austrian-based Zweikampf has developed a 3D-printed shin guard that the company claims is only 7mm thick and weighs only 75 grams – but provides maximum comfort and top-notch performance. The 3D shell features a unique “Y” structure, and a 3D grip profile ensures maximum impact deflection.
New helmets, too, are becoming game-changers when it comes to preventing injuries in certain sports. Specifically, Riddell has partnered with 3D-printing and manufacturing firm Carbon to produce revolutionary, custom-fitted, 3D-printed helmet liners. The liners are made of a custom, highly-damping elastomer in the form of a lattice structure to reduce both linear and rotational impact energies.
Similarly, Montreal-based designer Gabriel Boutin has developed a 3D-printed bike helmet consisting of a proprietary three-layer setup, known as the Kollide Safety System. The helmet’s polymer shell consists of a series of kinetic bumpers, and below these exist an array of air-filled compartments designed to collapse and absorb impact. The third layer is comprised of over 100 sucker-like pods, lined inside the helmet, that reduce rotational motion.
While revolutionizing safety and injury prevention, 3D printing is helping to reduce the amount of time teams have to play without their star players. Injuries are the bane of any professional outfit and cost both time and money. In fact, they can even be costly for fans, given how many people wager on sporting outcomes. Today’s trusted and regulated bookies strive to provide detailed previews and tips and up-to-date odds, in the name of fairness and transparency.
This does not have to do as directly with a 3D-printing innovation, or player safety. However, it’s nevertheless clear that these very innovations make the whole world of sports fairer. Not only are teams and leagues less likely to be impacted by injuries (which are part of sports, but still take away from the competition), but the millions of people who stake money on outcomes are better able to expect that those outcomes will be determined as they’re meant to be – without effect from injuries.
Given all of these changes, it’s fair to say that 3D printing is having a profound impact on the entire world of sports, even if it’s been relatively subtle to this point. And realistically, it’s probably just getting started.
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