We haven't heard much about sports in 3D printing news, perhaps because so many major companies have footholds on manufacturing sports equipment that everybody still buys. But those who follow 3D printing likely figured it was inevitable that 3D printing would soon print sporting equipment. It's also apropos that America's favorite pastime (baseball) would be the first sport where 3D printers would find a way in.
In actuality, it was tee-ball that's now the official first sport to play with 3D-printed equipment. Despite being from Little League, it's a major stepping stone that may head to major league baseball eventually. The Little League team in question above was the West Michigan Whitecaps, an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. A game they played recently had every piece of equipment printed off a 3D printer, including the bat and helmets.
While this didn't get major news in the mainstream, it's a big deal in the world of 3D printing. Plus, you can be sure that major league sports teams are looking into acquiring 3D printing after this news came out. Regardless, it does bring questions about how customizable some equipment will end up being in professional sports down the road. Will it help players be able to break records without resorting to taking more steroids to increase performance?
Customizing Equipment to Suit Athlete Demands
The two companies behind the above tee-ball game was Burton Precision Co. and Universe 3D. Those company names might not be known in many households, and they may not be the ones who ultimately take 3D-printed sports equipment into the mainstream. Yet, once the major leagues get into the field, things are going to shift and develop quickly. Athletes, especially, will want to get some investment into the field in order to customize certain equipment to suit their natural abilities.
Baseball bats, for instance, could be customized on a CAD program and then printed. The same could apply to footballs, soccer balls, and basketballs. With sports apparel making some slow inroads to 3D printing, having sports equipment joining the fray would complement the world of sports to a point of creating new paths for athletes.
Whether 3D-printed sports equipment ever helps athlete performance will remain to be seen. With the steroid scandal almost ruining baseball, having customized equipment to help break new records might also bring scrutiny. Obviously, 3D printing sports equipment will have certain guidelines so it doesn't make the players unnaturally good.
In the meantime, the gauntlet has been thrown down on what happens next in 3D printing and sports. Perhaps it's going to stay in non-professional sports for a while to prove how much money it can save in production costs. Down the road, Major League baseball may look somewhat different, especially when there's a 3D printer in the dugout printing out a customized bat.