Nike rapid prototyping


A Brief Look Into The Future of Additive Technologies In the Sports Industry


3D printing, while already a common technology in the sports industry for rapid prototyping purposes, is swiftly becoming a vital technique for manufacturing end products. With nearly daily improvements and innovations in 3D printer capabilities and the steady downslide of its costs, the range of its applications for athletic wear and gear is constantly growing. Many of the major sports manufacturers and brand names have already seen the potential of the technology and started to enter this avenue. Late 2015, Nike managed to win a major patent for a 3D printing shoe technology that it had filed back in 2012. On the same front, and approximately the same time, Adidas announced its project Futurecraft 3D that aims at bringing 3D printed bespoke shoes customized to every individual athlete’s biomechanics and special requirements. The ultimate goal of the company is a user experience where an individual walks into an Adidas store, runs briefly on a treadmill and instantly gets a bespoke 3D printed running shoe.

Now, a 3-man research team at the University of Bristol in the UK have emerged with a new technique that takes the whole idea to the next level, as it will enable the average person to create many types of sports equipment at home. The 3 engineers hope that their revolutionary idea will enable 3D printers to work with an extensive range of composite materials in the near future. Their ultimate goal: 3D printing things like ice hockey sticks, table tennis rackets and golf clubs at the average user’s home and at a low cost. While sports retailers and vendors might not welcome this new development, history has shown that they’ll embrace it sooner or later or become history.

According to the engineers, their methodology which manipulates strong fibres through using ultrasonic waves will be versatile enough to be adapted to various conventional 3D printers. Tom Llewellyn-Jones, a Ph.D. student in advanced composites who developed the system, says: “We have demonstrated that our ultrasonic system can be added cheaply to an off-the-shelf 3D printer, which then turns it into a composite printer.”

But the new method has clearly a far wider range of applications than home-made sports equipment. According to Dr. Richard Trask, Reader in Multifunctional Materials in the Department of Aerospace Engineering of the University of Bristol, the method will be applicable to a range of high-tech industries like printing self-healing materials for the medical industry or creating piezoelectric particles for energy harvesting for the alternative energy industry.

Back to the sports industry, the world of high-end sport has already fully embraced 3D printing where for example, motorsports have used additive technologies for rapid prototyping purposes and also manufacturing bespoke parts for years. These methods enable them to shorten the lifecycle of their never-ending product improvement iterations and make them more competitive. While current costs still limit quality 3D printing to the financial high-end class of sports like Formula 1, innovations and ideas like this will ultimately deliver the same merits to the middle-class sports players and companies.

rapid prototyping formula one racing

Right now, there are already limited 3D printed gears and wears for the end user on the market or are scheduled to be sold soon. These include everything from shin guards for soccer players to mouth-guards. But the list of applications for 3D printing for the masses is virtually endless and the potential of having bespoke items created instantly for low prices is perhaps the most interesting thing to enjoy and observe in the near future.

While recent developments in the 3D printing industry and its uses for athletes will have its impact on professional performance and world records in potentially every sport, having a set of perfectly tailored and 3D printed gear and equipment will also be very attractive to amateur exercisers and sports fans. As one can see, 3D printing’s potential is virtually unlimited in the sport’s world not to mention other markets. Exciting indeed!



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