3D printing offers completely customized products to each and every consumer and ending the “one size fits all” model. When it comes to producing sports equipment and protective gear an accurate fit is essential to prevent serious injuries, much like a seat belt or properly sizes childs booster seat is in a car. We’ve looked at how 3D printing has changed the design process of creating sports equipment, but now it’s time to talk about the advancements in 3D printed sports equipment itself.
Advancements and Improvements in 3D Printed Sports Equipment
Using improperly fitting equipment is one of the leading causes of sports injuries, so it’s safe to assume that if you can get your hands on a custom fitted piece of protective gear, you would. Being able to get custom fitted protective sports gear such as helmets or mouth guards has been cost prohibitive up until this point when 3D printing came in. Combined with 3D scanning, creating custom fitting 3D printed sports equipment is now a reality to all. 3D printed sports equipment makes so much sense since you can print on demand and make as many iterations to your 3D printed prototype as necessary until you get the design and fit just right for your needs.
In the case of Zweikampf, an Austrian company who has created not only custom fitting 3D printed shin guards, but has also improved upon their functional properties; the owner came to the idea to make 3D printed sports equipment based on his need for a better protecting shin guard. Jakob Schmied had received so many blows to his shins playing soccer that his doctors cautioned him to stay away from the sport lest any further dents to his shin bone (also known as the tibia) and cause severe and permanent damage. Coming to find nothing on the market, he and his father started the company based on this niche market gap.
As they created their 3D printed sport equipment in the form of shin guards, the capabilities of 3D printing led them to actually improve upon the basic shin guard design to where they added a Y-shaped design that helps to distribute shock across the surface of the shin guard. This, in turn, disperses the blow across the entire piece instead of at just one single point. This unique Y-shaped design has a secondary purpose in keeping the player’s long socks from falling down – to which I’m not sure if the socks provide additional shin protection, keep the shin guards in place more effectively, or just look cool. All you soccer players or true soccer fans can weigh in on that in the comments section.
Guardlab, the official licensed mouth guard of the UFC, also offers a unique to you fit when it comes to protecting your teeth through 3D printing sports equipment. Combining 3D printing with dental devices has been around since even Invisalign’s early days, so it’s no surprise to hear of a company that is using 3D printing to now protect that smile shaped by 3D printed braces. 3D printed sports equipment such as these mouth guards are a blend of 3D scanning technology and 3D print technology. Using a scanner to create the custom, bespoke fit of your mouth guard is only part of getting better protection for your teeth in high contact sports, Guardlab uses the data collected to ensure that your jaw is in the right position, “to help absorb impact and dissipate pressure to assist in injury prevention.” Talk about a benefit of getting 3D printed sports equipment.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has partnered with Autodesk in exploring better structures for football helmets that will minimize impact by using 3D printing to create numerous prototypes for quick and lost cost product testing. By deviating from the standard use of foam and pads in helmets, this partnership is able to go through “thousands to tens of thousands” configurations of structures that can better ward off concussion causing blows to the head. As we discussed in our podcast episode, we look forward to hearing the results from this study and seeing the next generation of 3D printed sports equipment and safety products that come out of it.
3D Printed Sports Equipment
As far as actual 3D printed sports equipment that is necessary for playing the sport, I could not find one instance (other than running shoes for track athletes at this year’s past Olympic games) where it was being used at a professional level. However, an inclusive project for the students on the Challenger Lacrosse team in New York 3D printed lacrosse stick heads that made it possible for special needs players to learn and play the sport. High school senior and co-founder of the Challenger Lacrosse team, Thomas DeSimone, manipulated the lacrosse stick head design using CAD software to make it larger and therefore easier to use for kids with special needs. He’s even moved on to a second prototype that is lighter than the first despite it’s three times as large size.
Looking for 3D printed sports equipment to make a “best of” list wasn’t entirely possible due to the lack of quality items to feature, but there were a few 3D printed pieces to feature that fell in the realm of sports – like fishing. While I don’t typically think of fishing as a sport, well definitely not a standard sport, there are quite a few fishing 3D printed sports equipment files to download on sites like Thingiverse. Most of the 3D prints aren’t necessary to the sport and more of what I would call accessories, like the fishing tackle and lure organizer box we featured for Father’s Day 2016.
Also from that same list are customized golf ball markers and a 3D printable desktop golf game. Of course, you can’t forget the 3D printed kayak when it comes to water sports. Overall, there is not much to currently download to make your own 3D printed sports equipment, but I could see things like tennis rackets, hockey masks, ping pong paddles, oars for your boat, snorkel gear, and even a basketball hoops getting a 3D printed upgrade. Or at the very least you could 3D print them for yourself before you make a more expensive commitment to high priced sports equipment just to make sure you’d really get into the sport – a “try before you buy,” if you will.
Leave a note below in the comments if you have created or tested out any 3D printed sports equipment or your thoughts on how 3D printing is moving into different sporting industries.
- 3D Printing Needs Market Gap
- 3D Print Your Own Braces
- 3D Printing at the Olympics 2016
- USA Today: How a 3D printed lacrosse head may signal the next step forward in differently-abled athletics
- Father’s Day 3D Prints 2016
- 3D Printed Kayak by Grassroots Engineering
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