3D Printing is one of the technologies which will have a big impact on the world of sports in the coming decade. It will result in substantial benefits for pro and amateur athletes as well as for sports equipment manufacturers. We discuss 8 important ways in how 3D Printing will impact sports.
What is 3D Printing?
Undoubtedly you have heard of 3D Printing. Several years ago this technology was presented as a hype but as is the case with most new technologies, it takes a while before they really start to contribute and to disrupt industries.
Let me first briefly explain again what 3D printing is. It is a process that turns an object into thousands of tiny little slices, then makes it from the bottom-up, slice by slice. In the end those tiny layers will form a solid object. Each layer can be very complex, meaning 3D printers can create moving parts like hinges and wheels as part of the same object.
3D Printing will increasingly be used in sports
As said 3D printing is one of the technologies that will and already is disrupting the world of sports. It is not the only industry which is impacted. What to think of the automotive, aerospace, dental, and medical industries? There this technology is already widespread. In fact, it is surprising that it has taken such a long time for the sportsindustry to massively embrace it, as particularly professional sports is continuously trying to raise the bar. It does not imply nothing has been done so far, but it means we are just at the beginning of the widespread use of it.
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Come to think of it, in sports it is often the last half percentage point that determines victory or loss. 3D printing may be instrumental in realizing the ultimate edge. The main difference is that in contrast to traditional manufacturing, 3D printing makes it easier to experiment with new materials and complex forms and shapes. Moreover, it is cheaper and is much quicker to market. Let’s investigate in which ways the sports industry will be impacted.
8 ways how 3D Printing will impact sports
1. 3D printing makes customization a lot easier
Each and every athlete is totally different. Not only does he or she has totally different biomechanics and biometrics, it also is very likely that he or she has different preferences, which can have a huge impact on for examples confidence and performance. Hence in order to perform best, the equipment and bodywear of the athlete have to be state of the art and in line with the latest technology. With 3D printing this is far easier to realise. Equipment can now be quickly produced and adjusted according to an athlete’s specifications, whether it is gloves, shoes, shoe soles, handle bars, bicycle parts or whatever. It can provide the athlete with just that little extra edge and confidence!
2. 3D leads to lower lead times and inventories of sports equipment
3D printing has huge advantages in the sports manufacturing industry. Not only does it reduce material wastage but products and prototypes can also be printed onsite, which reduces design times etc. Not only will this lead to lower lead (production) times, but also to cheaper products.
Taking it a step further in the supply chain, with a 3D Printer the shopping environment undoubtedly will also be very different in the future. Imagine yourself shops, where you can design your own shoes, which will then be printed straight away. In fact there are already examples of this. It means lower inventories in the store and happier customers. Clearly, this won’t be limited to shops. If you want to design your own 3D printed Nike shoes at home on your iPad, just do it and wait for them to be delivered a little later.
3. 3D Printing should lead to reduced injuries because of better protection and safety
Safety and protection are becoming an ever more important issues in sports. In professional sports avoiding injuries is extremely important as it could destroy an investment in for example a playe. Alternatively, it could shorten careers and lead to sustained underperformance, which again would lead to a lower return on investments in pro sports. As far as amateur sports is concerrned, costs related to injuries are a heavy burden for our modern day society.
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With the help of 3D printing, these issues can be better addressed now. Think of tailor made 3D produced helmets made specifically for your head and based on 3 D scans. Or what about mouthpieces, that can printed based on your set of teeth. With 3D it will be much easier to experiment what material has to be used to reduce the impact of for example a severe hit. Besides, if equipped with sensors, it even can be quantified. 3D printing will make this possible.
4. 3D Printing leads to better performance
One of the biggest advantages of 3D Printing is that it has short production times and makes prototyping extremely easy. For development purposes of equipment that is made of new state of the art materials, this can be extremely useful. For example in cycling lighter frames directly translate into performance gains.
3D Printing means that new parts and materials can be quickly prototyped and tested at a lower cost. Think for example of Formula 1 where mechanics may need a slightly different bodypart for the car. This in fact can be done overnight, leading to a faster car the next day. For designers 3D Printing is a gift from heaven. With it they can increase a product’s strength-to-weight ratio, create products that are stronger, or equally strong, while using less material. They can experiment with new material and fabrics etc. Ultimately this will benefit the athlete’s performance!
5. 3D Printing leads to easier access to sports and higher participation rates
We already mentioned that lead times, material wastage and inventories are coming down which in turn will lead to lower cost and consumer prices. This is excellent news for recreational athletes. Some sports are extremely expensive because of the high equipment prices. Lower pricing means that the barriers of entry are coming down and that it will become cheaper and hence easier to participate in a certain sport. Think for example of sports such as ice hockey, lacrosse and golf, which all require a high initial investment in equipment. With 3D printing this might become history!
6. 3D technology helps disabled athletes to participate in sports
3D Printing technology no doubt is a potential holy grail for many disabled athletes. Because of its 3D Printing’s precision, custom prostheses have now become available at a much lower price, opening up the opportunity for disabled people to participate in sports. Elite athletes can now be scanned with 3D techniques and create the perfect fit.
What to think of? Think of ultralight wheelchairs individually customized for bodyshape and movement. Or what about Denise Schindler, who lost her lower leg at an early age. 3D technology provided her with the perfect prothesis, ultimately leading to two medals at the Paralympics i. rio. In the video below she explains how the process works!
7. 3D Printing helps to reduce the environmental footprint of the sports industry
Unfortunately we are living in a society that is not always that friendly to its environment and that is an understatement! Waste, CO2 emissions and depletion of resources are common issues. Luckily the attitude towards these issues is changing and 3D Printing can help with this as it particularly helpful in reducing waste and transport and hence emissions. Also durability of products can be extended given that 3D allows for products to be made in one piece rather than from different parts. However there is more!
What to think of recycling your sports shoes into new ones! Sports shoes manufacturers like Nike and Adidas are all experimenting with 3D Printing from PLA or plastics. Several years ago, Adidas introduced its 3D printed Ocean Plastic shoe made out of plastic waste. Another example is surfboards which also are increasingly 3D printed from PLA materials. Hence this technology will help the sports industry in reducing its footprint.
Also interesting to read: sports going green!
8. 3D Printing should be incentive for sports merchandising industry
Fans and merchandising are a great and easy match. Fans are willing to pay for the latest gadgets, gimmicks and textiles of their favorite club or athlete, preferably in their favorite colour and with their own name printed or embroidered on it. With 3D Printing this will be an easy task whilst it also will reduce the number of Stock Keeping Units (SKU) in a store. Moreover, it is cost effective as it eliminates several expenses such as the use of multiple machines and human labour .
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But also on the web (eCommerce) and mobile phone (mCommerce)it can be a useful tool. Take for example Fanatics, one of the biggest sports merchandisers around. It innovates its mCommerce activities through personalisation, responsive design, testing and investments to enhance both its mobile optimised web sites and top-rated app.
Always nice to hear back from you. Feel free to comment or contact me!