Is 3D printing going to revolutionise sports equipment?

3d printing

3D printing is one of most exciting emerging technologies around today. It allows products to be created from anywhere in the world without needing to wait for often time-consuming delivery times, and can even print food and other perishable goods.

In addition to having a significant impact on our daily lives, it also has the potential to impact on the sports we play, either at an amateur or professional level.

This has already started in earnest, with one of the most famous cycling achievements in 2015 greatly assisted by 3D printing technology. This was, of course, Bradley Wiggins' breaking of the hour record (the furthest distance ridden in an hour), which was helped in no small part by the 3D printed handlebars on his Pinarello Bolide track bike.

The bars themselves were printed in titanium, extensively tested in wind tunnels, and created specifically for his body. It meant that he had maximum comfort on the bike, whilst also allowing for an increased aerodynamic position. Although they had a significant effect on his performance, the cost is likely to prove prohibitive for many at an estimated £3,000 minimum ($4500).

However, given that 3D printing is in its early stages, this price is only going to decrease, while the opportunity for others to create something 3D printed is only going to increase.

We have seen this in RaceWare's recent cycle computer mount, and bike company Charge is also 3D printing some bike components. Other sports are still largely in the testing phase, though tennis rackets, baseball bats and even 3D printed surfboards are being made available to the public.

Perhaps the use case that will have the most traction for 3D printing will be in the creation of trainers though.

Every person, whether they are a professional athlete or not, has a different gait when they walk and a different need from their shoes. People often need to have additional insoles or other orthopedic inserts to help alleviate the issues that having incorrect footwear can bring. Custom shoes are obviously a possibility, but for most this is out of their price range, though this may not be the case with 3D printing techniques.

Adidas have started work on their 3D printed shoes and created a concept product made from modified thermoplastic polyurethane. A set of running performance shoes that could perform to the same, or better, standard than the current mass produced offerings. Their prototype was a success, and as Daniel Cocking, a footwear development manager from the company explains:

'We all have different foot shapes, and we all have different running gaits. This makes buying a running shoe a tricky journey. By harnessing 3D printing technology, the ultimate goal of true product customization is closer than ever before. It’s a promise of a fast-approaching, revolutionary in-store experience, where your style of running could be analysed and used to create a perfectly tailored functional product. This opportunity eliminates the anxiety of buying a new running shoe, knowing that there is no other shoe in the world that is better fitted with the right characteristics for you.'

To read the original version of this article, published by George Hill at Innovation Enterprise, click here.

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