The University of Tsukuba, Japan is using an Objet350 Connex multi-material 3D Printer as part of its advanced R&D program for sports science and Olympic training.
The University of Tsukuba conducts research and development in three key areas: sports equipment, training and conditioning. A research team led by Professor Norihisa Fujii at the university’s Faculty of Gymnastics developed equipment used by Japan’s fencing team which won the Silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics.
3D Printing Helps Fencers Get a Grip
The hilt of the fencing sword must fit the fencer’s hand perfectly, even a slight difference in the shape of the hilt can spell victory or defeat. Before 3D printing, there was only one type of fencing hilt in the world, and each competitor had to personally file the hilt to customize the fit and achieve a non-slip surface. If the sword ended up breaking, it was almost impossible to get another one with the same fit.
For the 2012 Olympics the researchers at the University of Tsukuba scanned the actual equipment used by the fencers in 3D, and the resulting polygon data was then incorporated into 3D CAD. The 16-micron accuracy of the PolyJet based Objet350 Connex 3D Printer enabled the researchers to produce iterative prototypes of each sword with minute variations according to the athlete’s feedback. A total of 70 prototypes were produced.
The customized, completed hilts were manufactured in April 2012, three months before the London Olympics. For the first time in fencing history, each competitor had five spare hilts, providing a “sense of security.”
The University of Tsukuba is now exploring other 3D printing sports applications such as protective equipment for gymnasts, shoes for javelin throwers, triathlon wear, sailing masts, a footwork assessment system for badminton, and more.