Refining the athlete’s foil.
Every fencing foil is different, tailor-made to the athlete. Fencers traditionally hand-sand their hilts to adjust the fit and feel for optimal control. If a hilt breaks, it is irreplaceable. When he was assigned to create new hilts for the Olympic team, Osamu Takeda, a researcher in sports biomechanics at the University of Tsukuba, was reluctant. He knew little about fencing and its rules, let alone the intricacies of how to grip the foil. With just months to complete production and deliver the final products in time for the London Olympics, time-intensive molded or machined prototypes were out of the question, says Takeda.
Thankfully, the university’s Sport Performance and Clinic Laboratory had installed an Objet350 Connex 3D printer for the multi-support project. Over six months, Takeda made nearly 70 prototypes. “It was only possible with this 3D printer,” he says. Some prototypes were built in just hours, and the PolyJet technology-based system provided the impressively fine resolution needed for Olympic-quality product development. The 3D printer produces smooth prototypes with layers just 16 microns thick.
Skepticism turns to trust.
“They were surprised by the prototypes’ quality and started making customization requests,” he says. Having gained the team’s trust, Takeda moved diligently forward on his mission, several iterations at a time. He often appeared with five to seven new prototypes within a day of fencers’ requests. “Athletes are not engineers. So, I needed to translate their words into several prototypes as quickly as I could. Without 3D printing, it would not have been possible.”
Peace of mind.
And Takeda predicts wider benefits: “No one can say that our efforts for top athletes won’t result in better sports gear for the general public someday.”