Across every sport, from football and rock climbing to polo and autocross, athletes can only perform at their best with the right equipment and support. Since the inception of sports, athletes had to make do with relatively universal safety equipment and performance gear. Although the gear was customized for the particular sport and position, the athlete’s build and abilities were not taken into consideration. Although medical devices used to treat sports injuries were customized, the process took an incredibly amount of time and money while leaving much to be desired. The adoption of 3D scanning and printing equipment has opened up the possibility of customizing every aspect of athletes’ safety equipment, performance gear and medical devices. Athletes can even create customized keepsakes to memorialize their greatest achievements through their careers.
Athletes wear safety equipment to protect against injuries as they push their physical abilities to their limits. Without safety equipment, athletes would have to turn down their intensity to avoid immediately developing seriously, potentially life-threatening injuries. Although the current universal safety equipment is more effective than naught, the function of these devices is dramatically improved with precise customization to fit each athlete’s physique.
With 3D scanning and printing, it is possible to create safety equipment that precisely fits the athlete. Athletes participating in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recently upgraded from universal mouth guards to personalized 3D printed ones. The custom mouth guards protect against high intensity impacts that have the power to knock out teeth. In addition to providing increased protection for the teeth and gums, the 3D printed mouth guards improve muscle alignment in the jaw and neck to improve oxygen intake and neuromuscular response.
Nearly every sports game imaginable is starting to embrace this new way of creating customized safety gear. Soccer players are enjoying customized 3D printed gear in the form of shin guards. Football players can benefit from the creation of customized helmets and shoulder pads designed to reduce the force of impacts. In spite of their strength, the 3D printed materials are less intrusive and much lighter than the professional grade universal models. To suit player preferences, athletes can select between custom layers designed for improved impact resistance or maximized comfort.
To support athletes trained and innate abilities, performance enhancing gear should feel like an extension of the body. Unfortunately, many athletes remain somewhat disappointed with the fitment and function of universal sports gear. New 3D scanning technology allows gear manufacturers to create customized pieces by scanning the athlete’s unique form. With the scanned measurements, the handhold on the gear could fit every curve across the palm and fingers to maximize each player’s athletic abilities.
The creation of customized running shoes, cross trainers and cleats using 3D scanning and printing gives athletes the ability to retain excellent footing every step of the way. The switch from injection molds to 3D printing improves the structure of the footwear while reducing manufacturing costs to pass the savings onto the consumer. The final design of each type of athletic shoe can be easily customized to fit any foot shape and size.
When athletes suffer injuries that keep them benched on the sidelines, they face enormous pressure to heal quickly and return to the game. Returning too early, however, can result in additional injuries, some of which can prematurely end the athlete’s career. Despite knowing this risk full well, athletes may return far too early anyway, especially when faced with missing a once in a lifetime championship game.
Luckily for these athletes, using 3D scanning and printing to create customized medical devices can help speed up recovery times and even mitigate the risks of returning too early. A professional football player recently played in the Super Bowl with a broken arm by using a 3D printed brace for support. The extremely lightweight brace prevented additional damage from impacts without impeding movement.
To help players heal from broken bones faster than ever, doctors look forward to using a 3D printed cast designed in the form of an exoskeleton. The scanning process identifies the trauma zone to create an ideal external support structure. After creating the design, the cast takes just a few hours to print and moments to place around the injured limb. The customized design keeps the bones in an optimal placement for quick healing without the uncomfortable annoyances of traditional casting materials.
To prevent injuries, 3D scanning and printing is being used to create custom orthotics designed to rectify gait abnormalities caused by structural deficiencies or prior damage from injuries. Unlike traditional orthotic inserts, these insoles are created in just a few short hours. The insoles are made from thin nylon for maximize comfort and feature an antimicrobial layer to keep foot odor to a minimum.
After breaking records or achieving seemingly impossible feats, athletes can commemorate their accomplishments using 3D scanned and printed figures and trophies. Athletes just have to don their uniforms, hold their gear and go into a scanning booth to have their essence transformed into a printed figure for posterity.
Winners of prestigious events, like the Formula 1 Grand Prix, may receive fully customized, totally unique trophies created using 3D printing technology. Everything from the structure to the hardware of the trophy is custom designed and created using this technology. Mountaineers, triathletes and racecar drivers may receive a 3D sculpture made from the map of their monumental trek. The sky is the limit when it comes to memorializing the journey and accomplishments of athletes through 3D printed keepsakes.
As athletes continue to push the limits of each performance on the field, court or track, 3D scanning and printing technology will continue to provide the support required for these improvements. With customized safety and performance gear, athletes can continue their record breaking attempts without worry about career-ending injuries. If any incidents do arise, personalized medical braces, casts, orthotics and other equipment can return the athletes to the field faster than ever. As athletes break records and achieve lifelong goals, 3D printing will allow for the continued creation of memorable keepsakes to commemorate those events.