Jul 20, 2018 | By Thomas

Balance might be the only thing on your mind the first time you stand on a surfboard, but the experienced surfers from the University of Wollongong (UOW) are all thinking about equipment. About those little tweaks to board design and materials that can optimize their performance and help them catch those extra waves. It’s exactly why researchers from UOW turned to 3D printing to quickly prototype and test numerous surfboard fin designs to facilitate more bespoke rides through the waves two years ago.

This research has continued. UOW team of six surfers and three researchers did on a recent trip to the remote Mentawai Islands, located off West Sumatra in Indonesia, to surf test new shapes of 3D-printed surfboard fins designed and manufactured at the Australian National Fabrication Facility node at the UOW.

These 3D printed surfboard fins are actually part of the UOW’s Global Challenges program, which is aiming to use recently developed technologies to change lives everywhere. The project is headed by UOW Professor Marc in het Panhuis, who has previously worked on diverse 3D printing projects such as a 4D printed valve.

As the professor explained, their main goal was to break through design and manufacturing conventions for surfboards, and develop new shapes, sizes and materials that are more efficient and specifically tailored to suit the individual user and the waves they love.

Surfers rely heavily on two things to ride waves; ocean swell and their board, said Professor in het Panhuis. “There is a lot to a simple surfboard fin, you have to consider the fin base, depth, rake (or sweep), foil, cant, toe and flex. Not to forget, the number of fins and their positioning on a surfboard."

“There is no such thing as a simple surfboard fin. The team has looked at things different materials that can make the fin stronger, lighter and its ability to flex.”

The Wollongong researchers have been experimenting with custom 3D printed fins for about three years now.

“3D printing enables us to print virtually anything we can imagine and that includes surfboard fins," said Dr. Stephen Beirne of the Australian National Fabrication Facility based at UOW. "Our team started out creating CAD-generated fin designs on a computer, then we took those designs and used computational fluid dynamics to see how the fin was likely to perform in the water. The last part of the process was to select the most appropriate materials to print the prototype.”

However the hardest part was finding a consistent ocean wave to test out the performance characteristics of each 3D printed fin in real world conditions. After an extensive search for an ideal test venue, they chose the chain of islands off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia due to an array of different surf breaks and dependable waves. The team chose a particular left-hand-breaking wave called Macaronis.

“Macaronis is a unique surfing spot because the waves always break on a reef in the same spot,” explained Professor in het Panhuis. “The waves also roll over a long distance and surfers can get a maximum of turns, which is perfect for collecting surfboard fin data.”

The surfing team had the challenge of catching a variety of waves, and performing as many turns as they could per wave, with the array of different surfboard fins. Local Surfboard shaper Dylan Perese of DP Surfboards also produced standardized surfboards for the trip.

As part of their effort, they also completely packed surfboards with sensors and GPS tracking devices to gather data on every wave, at every speed and during all turns and airs. This approach to surfing allowed them to closely track the performances of surfers at every skill level, which provides data for the development of new designs.

"The surfers also filled out a fin performance rating scale immediately after they completed riding each set of fins," explained Professor in het Panhuis. "The information is then used to compare the different sets of fins.”

Professor Julie Steele, the Director of UOW’s Biomechanics Research Laboratory, collected the fin performance rating data during the trials, while also to ensure the research had no bias toward particular fin designs.

"The surfers were always happy to go for a surf, but they weren't allowed to look under their boards," Professor Steele said."To help this, we changed their fins for them, and they were always referred to with coded names."

The researchers tracked and counted their surfers surfing more than 450 waves and performing more than 1700 turns in all types of weather conditions over six days, for up to eight hours per day. They tested three different prototype fins that were 3D printed and compared their performance to that of commercially available products from two mainstream fin producers.

“Preliminary analysis of the fin performance rating data has revealed that the surfers, on average, have rated one of the 3D printed fins as feeling the best to surf on," said Professor Steele. "We were surprised that there was such a strong preference for this one fin, given the six surfers all had very different surfing styles.”

The 3D printed ‘Crinkle Cut’ fin has a series of grooves on one side of the fin. “Think of a potato crisp, hence the name crinkle cut," Professor in het Panhuis explained. "The reason this fin shape works so well is because the contours improve the way the water flows past it. These contours ultimately give the surfer more speed. The fins also seemed to offer plenty of drive and projection out of turns.”

Through 3D printing, those findings are now being used to their full extent. Researchers are therefore hoping to kick-start a niche manufacturing industry and revolutionise surfboard designs with their 3D printed fins.

All images credit: UOW



Posted in 3D Printing Applications

Source: UOW


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