Rapid Prototyping Techniques Help Create Better Surfboard Fins
Wollongong’s Researchers are 3D printing bespoke surfboard fins that according to the University will enable surfers to boost their performance. According to Australian researchers at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, new procedures for creating surfboard fins made with additive technology will enable designers to come up with bespoke designs that are individually balanced to each surfer’s biomechanics and habits and the waves they ride.
For those of us who aren’t into surfing at all, surfboard fins, or skegs, are quite similar to shark dorsal fins but are attached to the sole of a surfboard and allow the surfer to effectively maneuver waves through foot-steering. This whole process was made possible through the use of 3D printers to rapidly prototype custom made fins. The ultimate goal of the project is to rethink the conventional surfboard fin design and manufacturing techniques with the aim of creating new materials, shapes, and designs that are more effective and individually customized to each surfer’s needs. For example, some surf conditions warrant a more stiff fin where as other conditions a softer one. So Marc and his team can quickly produce and mold a custom fin for surfers depending on their needs. This process can be done very quickly, accurately and fairly cheap too.
According to Professor Marc in het Panhuis, the aim of the project is “to come up with new, more efficient fins that can be bespokely designed for a particular surfer and a particular wave.” Professor Marc, who is also an expert in developing new materials, says that currently there are many ways to customize the surfboard itself, but customizing fins, which would help to increase control and improve stability when riding a wave, while technically possible, is quite not feasible due to high costs.
He adds that moulds are part of a significant number of current find manufacturing techniques and they are quite expensive to create and customizing them to each individual surfer’s needs is even harder. But quite to the contrary, 3D printing is a technique that allows us to streamline the design and manufacturing lifecycle. This, in turn, makes rapid prototyping and rapid optimization of designs for bespoke surfboard fins quite practical.
3D printed fins put to the test
Wollongong’s research team are currently using tiny GPS tracking devices attached to the front of the surfboards of a few local amateur riders to test and compare the designs. The team has a major data analysis project underway and the data is compared to what is captured from a similar GPS attached to the surfboard of a professional surfer on the world tour.
Professor Marc and his team at UOW’s Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health have already recorded more than 1100 turns and 1400 waves. The captured data includes everything from the biggest turn to top speed, wave count, and highest air. The team has already 3D printed more than a dozen fin designs and the information extracted out of the data analysis is used to iteratively improve the design.
And as it usually happens to be, the effort behind bespoke 3D printed fins is not like a day at the beach. The team of students and academics at the University of Wollongong working on this project encompasses a colorful lot from human geographers, 3D printing experts, rapid prototyping specialist, computational fluid dynamics experts, to biomechanics specialists as well as local volunteer surfers.
Marc adds, “We’re already talking to a number of local surfboard manufacturers who are interested. We hope to offer the customized service in Wollongong first and then eventually expand it.”
Let us wish Professor Marc and his team success and hope to see bespoke 3D printed surfboard fins in surfing championships in the near future.
Have a look at the 3D printed fins in action.
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