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Among the 3D printing opportunities available to passionate sports enthusiasts is sports equipment design. Thanks to clever use of the 3D printer, improvements in equipment design are happening at an accelerated pace. These innovations have improved the performance of athletes and have opened up a variety of sports activities to the physically disabled.
Luc Fusaro from France, is an engineer who developed a technique of 3D scanning a runner's foot and then 3D printing it into an ultra lightweight running shoe. To get a customized design for an athlete, he scans them as they perform various athletic tasks. This allows him to modify the design so that it is optimized for that particular individual. The printed shoe weighs only 96 grams and can improve running performance by 3.5 percent which in the world of Olympic competition, can mean the difference between a gold medal or no medal at all. Luc Fusaro says that the secret to the shoe's light weight is its structure rather than the material it's made from.
Prosthetics For Athletes
Rock climbing is a sport about super precise body movements. If your center of gravity is slightly off or your foot isn't positioned correctly, you will fall. The advancements in climbing shoe design have made it possible for the climber to climb in impossible places that humans aren't normally meant to be in. This is why it was so devastating to rock climber CJ Howard when he lost his lower leg to bone cancer. He found that his standard artificial foot wasn't well suited for climbing.
However, a former mechanical engineer friend of his used a CAD package to design a climbing prosthesis made from titanium. An EOS direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) machine at Morris Technologies was used to print the prosthesis. It was then coated with the same rubber used for the soles of climbing shoes. He's been climbing with the prosthesis 3 times a week without problems. He plans to make more prostheses that are specialized for specific types of climbing. Howard says
"it’s like changing tyres on a race car - you just switch your foot for different climbs."
Crowd Sourcing Sports Gear Design
Perhaps the greatest impact that 3D printing will have on the advancement of sports gear design is that it makes the sharing of human innovation possible on a global scale. The development of open source software is an example of what is possible with crowd sourcing. The same phenomenon is now possible with the development of items such as surf boards, skis, snow boards, and so forth. Sport enthusiasts with 3D printers are free to experiment and improve equipment design. They can then share this information on the Internet where the design gets improved on by others.
There are many 3D printing opportunities for the entrepreneurial sports enthusiast in the area of sporting gear and equipment design. The technically proficient sports enthusiast will also have an edge in finding job opportunities in product design for sports equipment companies because they have both the technical know how and an intimate knowledge of the sport itself.