Aug 3, 2016 | By Andre

With the 2016 Summer Olympics just around the corner, the world’s top athletes have competed tirelessly and kept themselves going in top form for the chance to represent their country on the podium. It is in this world that a fraction of a second can be the difference between a medal or nothing at all so it’s not surprising sports scientists are doing everything in their power to give their sponsored athletes whatever little edge they can provide.

Big name sports brands such as Nike, Under Armour and New Balance have invested lots of money into sophisticated 3D print heavy research centers to do just that. Whether it’s body scanners by Adidas or 3D printing silicone protrusions to focus airflow in runners by Nike, there is fast becoming a delicate balance between assisting the athlete with science and what is essentially the apparel version of doping.

The hyper-customization aspects of 3D printing and 3D scanning have made it possible for the top athletes to gain that extra step and the potential negatives are already starting to peep their heads through.

Adam Clement, senior creative director of team sports at Under Armour understands this balance. “We make sure we stay inside those rules, but we will get to the very edge of them if we can. Our goal is to innovate in a way that ultimately makes the Olympic rules change. We'll adjust, but we'll feel proud of that accomplishment.”

And while the thought of comparing doping via drug-use to its apparel based equivalent might sound silly to some, there’s little doubt that running shoes to eliminate blisters or gear to reduce body temperature isn't without controversy. Swimming recently banned bodysuits (seen in 2008 with swimmer Michael Phelps) that have been blamed of providing too much to the fortunate few to be sponsored by the best sports researchers.

Further examples of 3D printing technology assisting in performance enhancement of the athletes can be found with Nike’s footwear project as well as swift tape, which utilizes 3D printing to accelerate a potentially five-year process into approximately 20 months.

In the end, it’s true that most of any one athletes success comes from a lifetime of waking up early to train hard with a continuous eye on the prize but having the right gear to help along the way is certainly important. U.S. marathon runner Desiree Linden notes that “you’re not going to catch magic on race day from magic shoes. But if I train really hard and I get a blister or don’t step on my foot right, the race doesn’t matter anymore.”

But just like Michael Phelps' inevitably banned swimming gear, other equipment has come up for review in recent years. Under Armour’s state-of-the-art speed skating suit, for example, was partially to blame for the U.S. team’s dismal performance in the 2014 olympics in Sochi so things can certainly go both ways.

From a 3D printing perspective, the Nike tape system mentioned above is designed for runners to use their arms and legs in order to help them go faster. They also used 3D printing and wind tunnels to improve air-resistance protrusions for long distances. And then there is Under Armours efforts to print multiple configurations of U.S. Sprinter Trayvon Bromell’s shoes to improve traction and energy transfer. For the Vazee Sigma track shoes that U.S. sprinter Trayvon Bromell will wear, New Balance turned to 3D printing technology to test multiple configurations to improve traction and energy transfer.

So it’s true that elite sport is about long hours in the gym or on the track to eke out that extra fraction of a second to beat the competitor. Custom fabrication technology such as 3D printing and 3D scanning are embarking in new territory to assist with that extra edge. Luckily, so far, the big brands aren’t loyal to any one nationality so the competition between athletes and the companies that are embracing new tech have common end-goals.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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