3D printing still seems like relatively new technology looking for its place in the mainstream, but that hasn’t stopped the sports world from picking up on the up-and-coming service. At SXSW 2014, Jeff Beckham -- who has covered the intersection of sports and technology for ESPN and Wired, among others -- will lead a panel on how 3D printing is infiltrating the sports world entitled “The Printed Athlete: Sports Embraces 3D Printing.”
“It's still in the early stages, but each implementation brings more attention,” says Beckham. “Burton Snowboards is a leader in pushing the current boundaries of the technology. Their headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, houses a lab with a couple of different 3D printers. They've been making great strides with printed bindings (the pieces that hold your boots to the board) that are customized to individual riders and strong enough to hold up to an entire season of riding.
“Nike debuted a set of cleats this spring that were designed to help college football players at the scouting combine. A 3D-printer sole plate could be customized to maximize the players' times in the 40-yard-dash by altering where the cleats were placed on the sole. Each player could receive a slightly different design based on their running style and whether they were running on turf or on the track.”
The uses for 3D printing are very specific at this point, but as more companies get their hands on the technology and put out products, the market will continue to expand.
“It may take a few years to work out details around cost and logistics, but the benefits are becoming clear. I believe it will eventually find its way down to the consumer level, where you can go to the store and have you feet scanned, then come out with a customized pair of shoes for your favorite sport and in your favorite colors.”
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