A research team led by Professor Norihisa Fujii used the Objet350 Connex multi-material 3D Printer to develop equipment that led Japan’s fencing team to a Silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Like other professional-grade sporting equipment, fencing implements are highly specific in that the hilt of the sword must fit perfectly in the fencer’s hand. Traditionally, there has only been one type of fencing hilt in the world and fencers had to file it down to customize it. The fencer would be out of luck if their sword ever broke because it would be near impossible to get the hilt of a new sword to match the old one exactly.
However, by scanning fencing equipment and then incorporating that data into 3D CAD, the researchers were able to 3D print personalized prototype swords for the athletes. This completely negates the problems associated with breaking a personalized sword. Now, if a fencer damages their equipment, exact replicas can be 3D printed.
"Players are not engineers. They talk about their requirements instinctively. So, bearing this in mind, we develop various patterns based on different assumptions,” said Osamu Takeda, a researcher who managed the modeling of the prototypes at the University of Tsukuba, Sports R&D Core. “With the Objet Connex multi-material 3D Printer, we can do this easily. We can respond flexibly and promptly because the machine is so accurate."
For the London Olympics, each competitor had five additional hilts giving the fighters a sense of security in case one, or five, got damaged.
“Whatever the sport may be, it’s all about designing customized equipment to enable the athlete to maximize his or her personal best,” said Jon Cobb, Executive Vice President Marketing, Stratasys.
“Stratasys 3D printers have a long history with the sports world, spanning everything from the design of customized running shoes to the 3D printing of end use parts for bikes and snowmobiles. The accuracy of our technology and the durability and flexibility of our materials enable sports equipment designers to develop truly breakthrough concepts. Also, the fast turnaround time of 3D printing means that the athlete can try several design iterations until the equipment exactly matches personal preferences,” he continued.
Currently, the University of Tsukuba is looking for other areas in the sports world where 3D printing could prove to be beneficial. A few of their prospective ideas include: sailing masts, protective equipment for gymnasts, and shoes for javelin throwers.