Apr 5, 2017 | By David

3D printing enthusiasts might want to keep an eye on the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians in MLB this season, as their star pitcher’s performance will be influenced in part by 3D printing technology. Sportswear company New Balance modified the cleats of the Indians’ Corey Kluber by fitting them with a specially designed 3D printed plate. This is intended to improve his pitch, based on data gathered about his usual stance in games.

Kluber will be the first player in MLB who has taken advantage of the benefits 3D printing can offer for customizing and personalizing professional sportswear and equipment. Since the idea was first suggested to him last fall, he has worked closely with New Balance to move the project forward and implement 3D printing technology into his game. The result of their collaboration is a pair of plates for his shoes that are uniquely designed according to the mechanics of his pitching action. 

Dave Millman, Strategic Business Unit Manager for New Balance Baseball, is confident about the potential of 3D printing technology to help his company react to the individual needs of other baseball stars in the MLB. '‘Every player on the field has a different glove based on their position,'’ he says, '‘Why wouldn’t a player want a spike built for their specific position as well?” As the most asymmetrical movement on the field, the pitcher’s position was identified as the one that could be helped out the most through technological intervention. Prototypes were initially produced at New Balance’s Lawrence, MA Sports Research lab for testing during spring, and various tweaks were made before the final 3D printed plates were completed.

Data gathered about the pressure exerted on the ground by different areas of the pitcher’s feet was used by the brand’s Cleated Innovation Divison in order to create special stud placements or '‘walls’' that fit in his shoes. The use of 3D printing meant that these could be custom-made with an incredibly high degree of specificity. One wall on the outside of Kluber’s right cleat was installed to prevent his foot from twisting. On the left cleat, a curved wall was added at the toe and midfoot and heel studs were rotated so he wouldn’t slip when following through.

According to Bryan Gothie, Manager of the Cleated Innovation Division, New Balance "really concentrated on getting the spikes aligned in a way that when he lands with that front foot, it’s not going to move at all." Gothie said that the top priority was consistency in movement for him, '‘knowing that every time he’s going to pitch, he’ll have the same exact experience.” The Indians’ pitcher himself, a Cy Young Award winner in 2014 and 18-game winner in two of the past three seasons, is positive about the improvements this 3D printed breakthrough will bring to his game. He stated that a number of different variables were addressed in its development, giving him "more stability, more traction, and just a better feel for where my body is.” 

The results of the most important test so far, Kluber’s first outing of the season, probably weren’t what he was looking for. His 3D printed plates may have underperformed at the mound in their debut game, but we will have to wait and see how the rest of the season pans out before we make any judgements.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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