After a record-breaking year for GB at Rio 2016, it was inspiring to see elite athletes achieve their dreams after years of intense training and pushing themselves beyond their limits. However, what really interests us at Cambridge Design Partnership, is how technology can help to squeeze out every last bit of performance.
With the developments in additive manufacturing (3D printing), it’s exciting to see new technology being implemented in the form of sports apparel that fit the athlete and meet their needs more precisely. Using the latest techniques to accurately scan an object and manipulate the data into a CAD system we are able to produce prototypes using 3D printing technology, which has been particularly evident in the Paralympics. Prosthetics have been optimised and custom racing wheelchairs have been designed based on 3D scans of the athletes enabling enhanced usability that cater for an individual’s exact requirements.
The latest 3D printed prosthetic leg was showcased at Rio 2016 through collaboration with Autodesk, a US-based design software company and German para-cycling champion, Denise Schindler. The new polycarbonate prosthesis delivers improved power output and was manufactured in less time and for less money than traditional means thereby increasing the accessibility of sports prostheses.
Additive manufacturing allows us to optimise the design in a number of ways, the most significant being able to create structures and geometries which are not feasibly possible with traditional manufacturing techniques. This allows us to concentrate a material or lattice structure in areas where we require more strength and at the same time reduce wasted material in areas it is not required. Combining this with good design, leads to an optimised product for the athlete or end-user and could be applied across a broad range of uses. For instance, golf clubs could be designed with an organic internal structure, allowing for better weight and balance control as well as better impact and release characteristics from the club face.
So what might we expect to see in Tokyo 2020? No doubt a wider use of 3D printing and perhaps this may be evolved further (subject to International Olympic Committee regulation) and incorporate tracking and connected devices technology. We may see sensors integrated into sportswear to allow us to track movements and forces of the athlete as they perform. By analysing this data, it could enable us to tweak the design of apparel to improve the characteristics in certain areas to squeeze out that additional performance.
The ability to track movements and forces also lends itself well to designing better sports protection equipment. There have been incidents where the protection for athletes hasn’t been up to the job and this has led to injury. The problem is finding the correct balance between giving enough protection and not inhibiting the athlete from performing at their best.