Here we are again to discuss another breakthrough that has been achieved thanks to 3D printing. It is becoming an indispensable tool too quickly for all the industries out there. However, a rapidly growing market is the sports industry where 3D printing is finding increasingly more applications and uses. A number of sports manufacturers have already identified the potential that 3D printing brings to the table and are trying to tap into it. Adidas is already trying out 3D printed shoes while Nike has secured a major patent that will allow it to conduct 3D printed footwear production. The latest news, however, is about a team of three engineers – Thomas M. Llewellyn-Jones, Bruce W. Drinkwater and Richard S. Trask – from the University of Bristol located in UK that has come up with a new 3D printing technique. The team hopes that this will cause a revolution in the sports equipment’s production for the average person.
Although sports retailers might not like the idea but the engineers are hoping for their development to bring about a radical change that will allow a variety of composite materials to be 3D printed quite easily and at an economical price. In simpler words; you’d be able to 3D print tennis rackets and golf clubs in your home. The team has even confirmed that the process they have come up employs the use of ultrasonic waves in order to manipulate and impart strength to fibers and shall be adaptable to off-the-shelf 3D printers.
The real potential, however, lies beyond the average domestic sports equipment production. Dr. Richard Trask, Reader in Multifunctional Materials in the Department of Aerospace Engineering has noted that this 3D printing process may very well find itself quite useful when it comes to medical uses especially the vast and cheap production of the ‘resin filled capsules’. Ultrasonic waves are being employed as an extension to currently existing 3D printers. They are used for precise positioning of millions of small reinforcement fibers into frameworks. The framework basically imparts the object with strength. Once this is achieved, a laser that is highly focused is used for ‘locally curing the epoxy resin’ and then the desired object is 3D printed. The epoxy resin works as the adhesive agent for the framework. The new 3D printing process prints at a 20mm/s print speed and gives reinforcement and improved strength.
The world of sports, high-level, is embracing 3D printing and for obvious reasons. Motorsports and 3D printing have been working in tandem for quite some time now because of the easy and quick production of special mechanical parts that would otherwise be impossible or too expensive to make. However, it is innovation like the one achieved at University of Bristol that will help bring the full benefit of 3D printing to the average sports players and companies.
Looking at it from the perspective of average sports player, 3D printing brings uses and possibilities that are virtually limitless. The interesting potential of this technology lies not in the quick and economical production but its capability of making gear that is highly customized for the user. Examples of items that can be improved by customizing to personal level include protective padding, mouth-guards and shoes.
We aren’t exactly sure how soon we will be able to print out customized sports gear using our 3D printer, however, it is quite apparent with the current pace of progress and development that it is in the near future. The study conducted by the team has been published in Smart Materials and Structures.