Using Design and 3D Printing to go for the gold
It may sound like something out of a movie or a futuristic novel, but technology and 3D Printing have made their way into the Olympic arena. And this does make sense. As technology and Engineering have evolved, and as 3D Software, such as AutoCAD, allows for quick adjustments to models, teams now have the ability to prototype parts and equipment, fine tuning it to give them the competitive edge. But how far can 3D Printing go in the Olympics?
Team USA has teamed with Stratasys to create 3D Fabrications of their sled. The tweaks and the adjustments made by Team USA require such precision that a few degrees off of a measurement could mean the difference between life or death, gold or failure. The Luge, a major Olympic event consisting of a two-person sled, can have the person’s reach speeds of 90 mph (144.8 km/h).
Per an interview with David Dahl, the applications Engineer at Stratasys, it was said that “When you’re dealing with fractions of a second on the track, a little change here or there could be the difference between a gold medal or last place”. The focus of the 3D Print is to provide aerodynamic tweaks and performance fixes between runs in order to maximize the speed and potential for a win.
It should be noted that the sled was only prototyped, not fully manufactured, with 3D Printing. While this is not out of the question for future events, as of now, the sled remains constructed in the “traditional” method, using 3D Printing and prototyping to tweak components and performance to benefit the final product.
The UK’s 3D Olympic Run
The United States is not the first country to use 3D Printing and prototyping to help them gain the competitive edge. In the 2012 London Olympics, the UK, including Team GB, used 3D technology to design the stadium, to customize the equipment, and even to print some of the prosthetics for the special Olympic events. Yet, perhaps the greatest and most common 3D Printing for the Olympics, by the UK and other countries, was in the prototype sole of running shoes. According to one article from Stratasys, the UK used the 3D Scanner to create the perfect running shoe, weighing in at only 96 grams and improving performance by 3.5% for the runner.
The UK also has used the CAD Design to make improvements to the bicycling and Olympic wear of their athletes. Because a great many materials for 3D Printers are lighter, the fabrication of both headgear, as well as any component which will require a focus on the drag and aerodynamics it causes, is optimal for 3D Printing.
Replicas and Replacement
One of the benefits of the commercial 3D Printer for the Olympics is that necessary equipment can be quickly replicated. Helmets have already been fabricated. Shoes, skates, skis, goggles, and an array of supporting equipment that is easily damage, lost or destroyed can be quickly replaced with the 3D Printer. It is not that the teams are carrying a commercial or desktop 3D Printer around, but do not be surprised if you start to see Engineers becoming part of the sporting event, replicating and prototyping as needed.
Nike, a major contributor to the outfitting of Olympians, has used the 3D process to recreate shoes and outfits used in the Olympics for retailing. This is one way in which non-3D Printed material and content has been 3D Scanned and then mass produced through 3D Printing.
The Future of the Olympics?
The implications of 3D Printing for sporting events is enormous. Firstly, one has to consider how this will change the way in which athletes approach their selected sport. For example, in bike racing, will the biker be more concerned about the method and technique or in lightening of the bicycle through 3D Printing methods and model tweaking. Ice skating could even be affected as the skates could be prototyped to be lighter, thus allowing for higher jumps and quicker speed on the ice. Secondly, as more countries utilize the 3D Printing process, it would not be surprising to see stipulations on when and how the process can be used within the Olympics. While at this point it is seen as a cleaver and needed tool for tweaking performance, it could quickly snowball into a free-for-all using materials that could “cheat” the system or give an unfair advantage. Don’t be surprised if regulations come into play soon.
Bluntly put, the 3D Printer could revolutionize the level of competition and create new standards for events.