As we end 17 days of record-breaking action with the closing ceremony of the London Olympics today, it is virtually impossible not to feel just a little bit inspired. So, I'm off the couch and into the old running shoes and the tank-top that fits perhaps a tad more snuggly around the middle than it did a decade ago. But as we say in 3D printing - it's the thought that counts.
In fact, it's virtually impossible not to think of 3D printing when watching the games. There are simply so many areas where 3D printing is already being used, from the design of the Olympics stadium; to the individually customized equipment that goes into squeezing every last ouce of performance from the athletes; to even replacing human limbs by helping amputees discover their potential that most of us otherwise take for granted.
Here are just a small sample of areas where 3D printing is playing its part:
- Running - perhaps the most obvious example of where 3D printing features in the Olympics is in the creation of customized running shoes. French designer Luc Fusaro created a new technique which takes a 3D scan of the runners foot and prints it into a single piece running shoe that weighs just 96 grams! Fusaro claims the shoe can improve running performance by up to 3.5%.Another example in the running category was developed by Loughborough University in the UK. Their researchers have developed next generation sprint spikes tailored to meet the exact needs of elite athletes and boost their performance. By customising the sole units of sprint spikes to match the characteristics of individual athletes, they have been have been able to maximise the performance of the runners.With an Objet Connex Multi-material 3D printer, adidas is also no newcomer to using 3D printing in the creation of better running shoes - read the full story here.Cycling - mountain biking at this year's Olympics was held at Hadleigh Farm in the Essex countryside - an area known for its rocky paths set among woodlands and grass. Trek bicycles is no stranger to rough terrain. They use their own Objet Connex 3D printer's ABS-like Digital Material to create functional parts that can be ridden and tested straight from the 3D printer in real field conditions. See the Trek video right here and check out this other cool video of the Subaru Trek Mountain Bike team riding their Trek bikes on the Hadleigh Farm course.
Also in the cycling field - the British team was noted for wearing customized helmets, bespoke to each Olympic cyclist. Each of these helmets was based upon a 3D scan of the rider's head and then 3D printed to verify that the fit of the final helmet would be perfect.
Using 3D printing to create equipment that's customized to fit the unique shape of the user or wearer is, of course, the obvious use of 3D printing in the Olympics. Other examples where this is currently being used or could be used include custom-designed rackets for tennis, badminton, and other hand-held equipment.
Prosthetics - if you haven't already read the very heart-warming story of 2 year old Emma, then here's your chance. Emma, born with a rare disorder that locks her arm joints into a static position, was recently fitted with custom-made prosthetic arms - created with the help of a 3D printer. She can now play, color and even feed herself. Closer to the games, we have the incredible story of South African Oscar Pistorius who ran himself into the hearts of the public and engrained himself in the history books as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
And while Pistorius' bio-engineered carbon-fiber prosthetics are not actually 3D printed (it will be a while yet before 3D printing materials are capable of absorbing the same strains as carb0n-fiber), it won't be long before they are. In fact, there are already companies providing personalized prosthetics for amputees that are functional in the non-extreme-sporting sense.
Swimming - one of this year's Olympic highlight was of course, the swimming, with some major records broken. Michael Phelps retires from the London Olympics and from his swimming career as the most decorated Olympic athlete ever - arguably with some help from the new hi-tech equipment being developed. Speedo is one company at the forefront of this revolution and is not averse to getting their feet wet - using their in-house Objet 3D printer to create the latest in hi-tech water wear, including goggles that have transparent parts and rubber-like parts printed in a single step. This isn’t the first time Speedo gear has made headlines. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics 98 percent of Olympic swimming medals were won by athletes wearing Speedo.
Olympic Stadium Design - architecture is of course, the other major area where 3D printing has been able to create a paradigm shift. As Piet Meijs has documented in our Architecture 3D printing blog over the last weeks and months, 3D printing is able to convey a major qualitative and quantiative advantage to architects by speeding up the modeling of potential buildings and structures, being able to rapidly change and present those designs to clients and to better integrate potential designs into their surrounding environments with the use of 3D printed plug-in's. This video shows how London's Olympics Stadium was 3D printed in about 6 hours, while this video shows how Fenway Park was 3D printed on an Objet Connex500 system.