The sport of 3D printing

3D printing has become a standard tool for athletes. It can be used to improve ergonomy and performance in traditional sports, and to enable sports and exercising for paralympic athletes and hobbyists, in the first place

3D printing was widely present in both Tokyo Olympic games 2021 and Tokyo Paralympics 2021. Applications were seen in numerous sports and also in olympic arrangements.

Some Tokyo 2021 examples below:

Olympics

  • Olympic rings were 3D printed from recycled plastic bottles. The bottles were crowdsourced from the city.
  • 3D printing was widely applied in athletes’ footwear. Most medalists had 3D printed insoles.
  • 3D printed custom pistol grip improved eronomy and accuracy (Celine Goberville).
  • 3D printing was applied in developing innovative racing bike solutions for the Great Britain Cycling Team.

Paralympics

  • 3D printing was used to improve grip and ergonomy in special gloves, for example for wheelchair racing.
  • Bike pedal structures were designed and 3D printed to match the individual needs of athletes.
  • Custom fit crank arms and and grips were 3D printed for racing wheelchairs.
  • Para-athletes with missing fingers, for example, had 3D printed accessories (Taymon Kenton-Smith).

Comprehensive list of 3D printing examples in professional sports during the past years would be very long. It is obvious that sports is great innovation platform for 3D printing. I’m excited to see the new solutions in Paris 2024.

Extreme personalization

The atheletes need to persistently optimize their performance and anticipate the details of forthcoming competition. 3D printing can often be part of the solution. The solution must exactly fit with the athelete’s needs at a specific point of time for extreme performance. For example, a sudden injury may change the need rapidly.

Solutions are created with skilled teams where the athlete is key person in the collaborative design team. Ideas can be copied from elsewhere, but the final product is always fine tuned solution, based on innovation, data, design, production, iteration and testing.

Reaching the best possible quality is a fundamental requirement. Sometimes the solution needs to be available in couple of hours, for example as unexpected need for a spare part. The team needs to perform and be ready for solving tricky problems.

Translation to normal life

Athletes are forerunners in finding ways how 3D printing can serve us all. Solutions developed for top performance can be translated to wider uses, in the same way as Formula1 developers create innovations that are applied in car and other industries, such as aerodynamics and carbon fibre technology.

In my vision, Olympic 3D printing innovations will translate, for example, in

  • Developing fast and high quality idea-to-implementation processes
  • Enabling tasks that were earlier impossible for individuals
  • Developing task specific tools and accessories for wide range of professions
  • Solving problems related to ergonomy and occupational health
  • Creating cost efficient solutions for accessibility
  • Innovative uses of emerging 3D printing materials
  • Design innovations
  • Developing functional products.

Are you interested to collaborate on developing sports inspired solutions with the help of 3D printing? Let’s talk!

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