3D Printing has already changed the world of sports, most notably at this year’s past Super Bowl. Making customized 3D printed objects is something we’ve touched on many times, but 3D printing has also changed design and they way things are created. From head to toe, there’s virtually not a body part that 3D printing hasn’t already helped protect when it comes to sports equipment.
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Changing Sports Equipment Design with 3D Printing
It is no question that sports season is at its height right now. We’ve been flipping back and forth between baseball, football, lacrosse, soccer. All the sports are going on between family and national, pro teams, college teams. Whatever it is that you’re following. It got us thinking about an episode we did early in the year about how 3D printing might change the outcome of the Super Bowl.
Just to recap, there was a player on one of the SuperBowl teams, the Carolina Panthers, who broke his arm in the NFC Championship game, Thomas Davis. He was allowed to play in the SuperBowl after he got approved this cast really that was 3D printed, that was made customized for him and really made the difference between him being able to play and not. The league approved him to use it and play in the game.
It didn’t help them win so it didn’t actually change the outcome, but it could have. It started us thinking that maybe it was time for us to do a deeper dive into sports equipment and how sports equipment design with 3D printing is changing and how 3D printing design is changing sports equipment.
To me, that’s the most interesting thing. I think anybody who listens to this podcast and has researched 3D printing at all really understands the unique benefits of being able to make customized 3D printed objects. There’s so many ways it’s being used and so many different technologies there are to choose from.
What we really haven’t touched on very much is how this technology, additive manufacturing 3D printing, has changed design and the design methods and the design process of things. As we were researching, it was obvious for us to go to the fact that you would go for items that were not one size fits all anymore. Things like mouth guards and shin guards and just protective things in general. Obviously you wanted them to fit perfectly so that they did their job better. 3D printing is logical.
Like we know, the 3D printed braces, Invisalign and even that kid who did his own. Last year, we did an episode on that, this kid that did his own 3D printed braces. Those are completely customized.
You go one step further and you do what happened with Thomas Davis. That cast is now you’re not only fitting his arm perfectly but you’re also making the ability for it to heal and allow you to continue to play. It’s giving you a little bit more ability to do the things that you want to do, whether it’s flexibility in the materials that is allowing you to be a little more flexible. We’ve seen a lot of those casts and splints that are completely made out of materials at which they’re open enough so you’re not itching, you’re not sweating. It’s not like an old fashioned cast.
You’ve got a benefit in changing sports equipment design with 3D printing, especially with kids. That’s been actually a great advancement. There have been some casts which look more like a spider web. They look cool, much better than the old kind. You can sweat through them. You can itch. You can swim, you can take your shower. You don’t have to stick a bag over your whole arm. There’s a lot of differences to it. Plus, if it starts to wear out, you just 3D print another one. It still fits you and you just get it back on. It’s a lot less difficult.
Those improvements are really logical and I totally understand them, but there’s been some thought as to, as we were looking farther into it, realizing that because of 3D print technology and because of the way you can design in additive manufacturing, we’re having design possibilities that weren’t there before. The idea that the manufacturing process itself is no longer a constraint. It allows you to do more things from a safety and a design standpoint and a functionality standpoint.
This really shouldn’t be a big surprise. It shouldn’t because in the world of product design and engineering, there historically, as you learn to become an engineer or a designer, what is it you have to study. As much as it is principles of design and engineering and physics, you have to learn about manufacturing processes. People would focus and I guess specialize, I would say, in injection molding, blow molding, rotational molding of plastics, or woodworking, metal working, forming, stamping. All sorts of different processes.
The more you understood the manufacturing process, it’s capabilities and it’s limitations, the better you could design for those things and even push the edges of the envelope of what those processes would do. It shouldn’t be like a real ah-ha moment I think to people. But it actually is.
When you’re in a mature industry, something that’s been manufactured for years, like football helmets or shin guards, and we’re going to talk about those two and highlight them. You’ve been manufacturing them the same way for so long, you’ve accepted some of the theories that have come out in the marketing behind them as fact and truth. Which may have been more justifying limitations and things that they either had to live with or didn’t want to pay to overcome or couldn’t overcome just because of how they were being made.
Changing Sports Equipment Design with 3D Printing – Shin Guards
You talk about shock absorption or shock dispersion and these kinds of things. All of sudden, because you no longer have to make them in that exact method anymore, you now have the ability to do something different. That’s the first one I want to highlight that we found that we thought was really cool. An Austrian company called ZWEIKAMPF creates these shin guards that have a Y shaped design that absorbs shock across the surface of the guards.
If you think about shin guards, playing soccer in high school. It’s been a long time. It’s just a sheet of plastic, maybe some perforated holes into them, some foam on one side. You get hit in a single point and that’s it. This, because of the way the Y is, it actually disperses the shock of it and distributes it across the whole shin guard. Your chances of injury are a lot less but it also made it much more lightweight, easier for them to use. It made it breathable in a little bit more way than it was before.
It had all these added benefits, but they weren’t constrained because in their design process and how they were thinking, they didn’t own a manufacturing facility bumping out shin guards day after day. They weren’t thinking like that.
That’s something I think that people who are not involved in any way in the industry of designing or manufacturing products don’t realize, that how many decisions get made for you, as consumers, by manufacturers that are heavily invested in a certain kind of manufacturing equipment. They’ll use their equipment any which way they can.
They don’t want to buy new equipment unless they’re absolutely forced to. Some of your consumer products are made a certain way not because it’s the best to be made, but it’s the way that a certain manufacturer had to make it. It was their path of least resistance.
3D Printing Changing Design – Water Faucets
This is a way that 3D printing … It’s not the machines themselves in 3D printing. It’s the design is, in a way, going to be the most disruptive part of the technology. I’m really excited about these kinds of things and these kinds of examples. We talked about it once before, when we were talking about the water dynamics happening in the underwater ROVs when we were talking with the old metal episodes.
I remember, thinking, “Wow. You didn’t think about water flow but now all of a sudden, you can do a totally different flow that you were incapable of before just because you couldn’t weld it that way.” Now, because of that, you can go faster and further.
Another good example of that is these 3D printed metal faucets that we saw and we highlighted some long time ago in an episode. I’m not even going to remember what it is. It’s probably too hard to research to figure out. I’m sure we can find them on Pinterest. The thing is, they’re this high end, initially, because the metal manufacturing 3D printing process is pretty expensive, and then all the post finishing to really polish them and shine them up.
What was wonderful about it is that they were … Even companies like American Standard and Kohler and some of these are using this technology and are making faucet designs that the old manufacturing processes of casting and forging really wouldn’t allow you to do. You couldn’t do it with at least the same precision if you could do it at all.
The internal pathways that water can travel now, they can make something with 12 cavities, small tubes instead of one big one all that water flow is going through. It’s a bunch of smaller ones that are separated and allow you a different design on the way in and produces almost a rain effect right out of the faucet instead of just column of water. More water efficiency and less waste. There’s a whole bunch of other benefits that you get from that process.
Changing Sports Equipment Design with 3D Printing – Helmets
Thinking about that, we dove into another one that I really want to highlight. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is up in our neighborhood. We used to live in Pleasanton, California up in Northern California. Livermore is right next door. The Lawrence Livermore National Lab is a really cool and innovative science lab that does a ton of advanced research on all kinds of different topics.
They have partnered with Autodesk in working on a new football helmet design. Obviously today, I have been hearing from everyone that kids coming out for football is in decline. There’s a lower turnout. My father was just talking about that the other day, that he has a long term friend who’s been a coach for years. Lowest turnout ever for trying out for the football team, for youth football because of the risk of injury. Concussions at an all-time high, concussion concerns and all of that.
All of that, it’s time that helmet design changes that and it changes in and of itself. This is time for a disruption for a very good purpose. It must change right now. It has multiple objectives. That’s what they were talking about at Autodesk is, when you look at something that has multiple objections, such as you need to be lightweight, you have to have a certain cost, you need to be very durable, you have to have a certain thickness level, you have to be able to be compressed or you have to disperse impact.
All of those things, and dissipate energy. You think about all of those different variables, all of a sudden, you realize that you have almost any manufacturing, any capability you want, any possibility you no longer have to make it the old way, now all of a sudden that open ups the possibility that you can make a different weighted decision on any one of those factors and improve the outcome of its performance and its safety.
There’s an even more obvious one that’s missing there and that’s the ability to just make helmet sizes that are customized. You have an issue of, there’s this size helmet and that size helmet. Do you fall in between or are you perfect for one or the other? What if your head is a little too small? Now you’re head is going to move around in that, swim around in that helmet a little more. Or, they’re going to add some more foam padding in there to take up the gap.
We see that with your kid’s helmets all the time. Bicycle helmets even. We see it so often in our neighborhood. What you don’t understand is that there’s a different standard as well as a different style of helmet that are for kids under the age of five mainly because there’s a whole bunch of difference in the way that they’re head is formed but also the way stuff fits them. So often, we this hand me down helmet from the slightly older child.
What do they do? They stick those extra padding pieces on the inside. Then the helmet doesn’t fit in the right position on their head. It’s either falling forward or sliding back. That’s the most common I think. When it’s not in the right position, it has a different safety outcome. It’s actually almost like not putting a helmet on in certain conditions. You have to be really cautious about that. Size is a different issue as well.
I think also that we just keep thinking about the idea that 3D printing has the ability to do these micro structures. That’s something that we don’t have capability of in too many other manufacturing processes. You have this ability to do meshes and create these tighter structures and create something that fits better, but also is just providing a different disipitative energy structure. Thinking about being able to combine materials and combine manufacturing methods, we now have another open season on the design of this.
It’s Time to be Changing Sports Equipment Design with 3D Printing
It’s really exciting and an exciting time to be seeing all this happening. I wonder if there’s been such an incredible explosion of development and opportunity in recent history, short of going back to the industrial revolution. 3D printing and all the additive manufacturing processes seem to be really affording so many new opportunities.
I think that part of the problem is what we found over the years, and that’s exactly what we’re referring to when we talk about these manufacturing companies who build helmets day in and day out, or the shin guards and they just build them and pump them day in and day out. That they’ve gotten themselves distanced from the design and innovation side of things. That it’s really just a value added engineering process and a manufacturing efficiency thing.
It’s like, I’m invested in stamping equipment and I stamp out foam. I can make any shin guard in the world, as long as I can stamp out foam to make it. I’ll give you whatever you want. They get much more focused on the efficiency, the profit margin and taking labor out of it or whatever it may be. They get focused on things that are improving their bottom line, not necessarily improving the performance of the product for the consumer.
They have, in the R&D side of things, if they even have it at all, they have a not invented here syndrome because their job is to basically add value to the existing way things work and not revolutionize that. They aren’t looking for that. In fact, if they probably did, they’d probably get fired. That’s what we find most often.
This is why we get something any inventors who are like, “I don’t understand why people don’t want to … My invention is so much better than the traditional way of doing it.” It’s not invented here syndrome that causes that. You’re talking to people who don’t want your revolution to happen because if your revolution happens, then you obsolete an entire room full of machines that make pens exactly the old way. We found that out in the old days, when we were making stylus pens. They did not want to think about making anything in a different method at all.
The reality of what happens in those situations is companies that the owner is so focused, “No, we’re not investing in new equipment. No, you’re going to innovate.” It is a level of innovation to push the envelope on what a certain core set of manufacturing capabilities or machines can do. There’s beauty in engineering and even design in that.
But what we’ve always seen happen over 25 years now with different clients and different manufacturers, is that the ones that do not actually innovate what the market wants and where the market is going, they stay focused on, “I’m going to keep doing it with my existing manufacturing because it’s too expensive for me to invest in something new,” they always end up losing in the long run to another company that actually innovates.
They come in and completely disrupt. That’s where that happens. They end up losing, in the long run, worse than had they invented in what new equipment to do it in a new, better innovate way. Which is, it’s really, you have to think of the mindset as to be better for the consumer in whatever way that is. That means maybe obsoleting it.
They also get a little arrogant. That’s what I found over the time of us working with companies. They get extremely arrogant in the fact that they’ve owned this equipment, they know this equipment, they’ve been doing this the longest and they’re the best, and they won the market. That arrogance in and of itself makes it seem that they say, “This is a huge barrier to entry and no one is going to be able to come in and disrupt this on me. It’s not going to happen.”
The other one that always drove me crazy was whenever they say, “No, we have 15 years of sales history.” They think that history is just going to continue repeating itself. They have all this knowledge of what worked in the past and they think, “We’re going to stay true to what worked for us in the past because that’s safe, that’s conservative.” It’s not a prediction of future performance. That’s the thing. Past results really are not a guarantee of what’s going to happen in the future.
It goes one step further than that I want to point out here. In today’s world, thanks to technology like 3D printing and other disruptive technologies, we also have an ability to build a business model at a lower price than it could ever have happened before. We can enter a market and disrupt that market with the speed and efficiency that’s never happened before.
We can reach a market through Facebook, we can do it through LinkedIn. We can discovery it straight into Amazon. We can disrupt your market model, your business model, your sales model, just as easily as we can disrupt your manufacturing model by designing better. When you look at those things all together, this is a really risky time to be extremely invested in a huge manufacturing facility or a way of doing things and not be out there with an advanced research team working on your behalf.
I do even think in the 3D printing world, it is also risky to be invested in a lot of 3D printing equipment because the technology continues to change there. I think there are some good examples of businesses that have, I guess what you could consider today to be legacy 3D printing machines, commercial machines that have been around for 10 years or more. They’re still very useful and they’re able to produce some great product with them. But I think there’s the risk of the same thing happening in 3D printing. There’s always more and newer 3D printing technology coming around. That’s not an excuse to not dive in and really get your feet wet and get going on it.
Changing Sports Equipment Design with 3D Printing – Final Thoughts
I really just want to point out, in the case we’re talking about, the design of 3D print sports equipment changing and 3D printing changing the design of sports equipment. You look at both sides of it. It’s both the sports equipment needing to change and the market wanting something new, and it’s also the fact that technology has allowed us to be able to show that it can happen. That it’s possible and that it can everybody better.
Now, we have to look at that and say, what are the industries? Is my industry at risk? Is my product line at risk? You need to deep dive and look at that. Your job, whether you’re working for a company, might be at risk tomorrow because you’re engineering and design department has not moved ahead and are only looking at 3D printing as a prototyping tool. You have to look at, how is somebody else going to use this?
I’m super excited. I got invited to this disruptive technology conference in Atlanta later this month. I can’t wait to go to it. I’m going to cover it for both our podcast and my Inc. column. I’m super excited about what I see there because this are marketers who are putting this on. We interviewed John Rich from Moxie. They extended this invitation out to me to come to this.
I’m so excited about it because they’re looking at, how does the consumer care about this. How does this have a marketing application? How is this advanced technology really going to change things and disrupt things in ways that you may not have noticed before? If you’re not out there thinking about it, you might just find yourself with a whole warehouse full of sports equipment that’s completely abandoned by the 3D printing world. That’s a scary thought. It could be in any industry.
Anyway, there’s going to be a blog post coming up in the next week on the whole 3D print sports equipment, the analysis of some of the other products that we looked at. Lacrosse sticks and mouth guards and those shin guards and of course the helmet from Autodesk and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It’d be looking through that.
Make sure you go to the blog post, 3DStartPoint.com. That’s a much deeper dive, by the way, of a blog post. It’s not just our typical for this type of podcast. This is its own thing. I just want to emphasize that. If you don’t realize that, we put out a blog post or a review, about once week, that is not covered necessarily here on the podcast. We try to mention it if we put one out there that we think interests you. We’re always putting out blog post topics.
You really should subscribe and join our email list on 3D Start Point. It just puts a ping out to you to let you know something new is posted. We are not email marketing to you. I hate email. It’s not that. It’s just a, “Hey, there’s something new.”
In fact, you have the option on our site to get an email daily if there’s a new one, or weekly for everything that happened within the week. We had our folks for the website code that, which I really like. It gives you some options. I like it because today we’re all overwhelmed with email. I don’t need one every single day. I’d love once a week to know what happened on our website and what was posted there. Because you might be missing something, like this fabulous post on 3D sports equipment.
Anyway, just wanted to make you guys aware of that. Of course, you can find us on social media @3DStartPoint.
- iMateralise 3D Printed Cast
- ZWEIKAMPF 3D Printed Shin Guards
- DVX Luxury 3D Printed Water Faucets
- Lawerence Livermore National Labaoratory and 3D Printed Helmets
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