3D printing for champions

Without doubt, 3D printing is the most important technological advance of the 21st century – the New Industrial Revolution – but it’s also changing the world of sport, says RePro3D

Nowadays, practically all sports brands use 3D printing to produce customised footwear. American football players, soccer stars and top athletes are improving speed and acceleration with 3D-printed boots and shoes, 100 per cent adapted to the shape of their feet.

3D printing allows complete customisation of sports equipment: golf clubs, fencing-sabre handles, boxing mouth guards, face masks or shin pads. Items which previously required up to 12 technicians to make can now be produced by just two people and at speeds never imagined.

Contrary to popular belief, 3D printing is not just used to produce small pieces. For example, Australian surf shop Disrupt is selling custom surfboards (for £222). And West Michigan Whitecaps is the first baseball team playing with 3D-printed equipment, including helmets, bats, balls, bases and even tees.

Another popular US sport, ice hockey is using 3D printing to improve pucks and make them stronger. Some companies are also starting to print resin bicycle frames and tennis racquets. They use a mix of carbon fibre and polymer, a super-light material used heavily within the space and motorsport industries.

Motor racing is also a pioneer in the use of 3D printing. Engineers at Caterham print around 800 to 900 units a month in order to speed up their design process. Similarly, the Red Bull team soon expects to be able to print spare parts, even spoilers, during a race.

In addition, Silverstone and Hockenheim 2014 grands prix were the first sports events to have 3D-printed trophies. These were produced by the Spanish company RePro3D, a rapidly growing startup, already involved in motorsport having manufactured the Koenigsegg Agera One’s car seats.

José M. Ferrándiz, RePro3D chief executive, reveals the futuristic manufacturing method used to make the F1 trophies. “The flames were printed by SLS – selective laser sintering – and the base by SLA – translucent stereolithography. The materials used were polyamide and resin, which were treated afterwards,” he says.

However, 3D printing is not only accessible to elite athletes and luxury sports car brands. “Thanks to our partnership with Stratasys and 3D Systems, we can print any object in any material,” Mr Ferrándiz says. “Nowadays, it is faster to print a 100 per cent functional piece than waiting until the store delivers it to your home. We could say that we are democratising 3D printing.”

You can get more information about these novel 3D-printing systems and their applications to professional engineering at http://3dprintingservices.eu/ . You can also print your own custom piece at http://www.repro3d.es/   or, if you prefer, you can purchase your own 3D printer from our large catalogue at http://repro3dshop.com/