3D Printing in Sport – Hit or Hype?

If you’re into 3D printing, no doubt you are familiar with some of the ways it is being used in sports. Some of my own products (above) have included a 3D printed bicycle frame, smart bicycle helmet and surf fins, while in the media products have included shoes, golf clubs and shin pads.

However, as a researcher, I was interested to know how this translates into academic research. How many research studies have been looking at 3D printing for sports products? How much improvement does a 3D printed product offer over a conventional one? Which sports are adopting 3D printing? Working with my brother, Dr Andrew Novak, we hypothesized that given the amount of coverage in 3D printing media, there should be quite a large amount of research supporting the developments of iconic 3D printed sports products, as well as novel developments that haven’t even made it into the media yet. The results – published in a paper titled ‘Is additive manufacturing improving performance in Sports? A systematic review‘ – were surprising (preprint version freely available).

Up until May 2019, we found only 26 academic studies that provided any empirical evidence related to 3D printing for sports products. The graph above shows which sports, and how many articles have been published. The first of these appeared in 2010. Running/walking was the most popular sport with 10 articles (38%), followed by cycling with 4 articles (15%) and badminton with 3 articles (12%). All other sports – baseball, climbing, cricket, football (soccer), golf, hurling, in-line skating, rowing and surfing – had only been assessed in single studies. This means that a lot of research into 3D printing of sports products are just one-off projects, and indicates that there may be very little funding/interest to continue building larger projects.

It also suggests that any research being done to support mainstream commercial applications of 3D printing, for example for brands like Adidas and Specialized, is protected by intellectual property (IP) and not being published.

10 articles (38%) observed improvements in performance of products developed via 3D printing compared to conventionally manufactured products, 8 articles (31%) found a similar performance, and 5 articles (19%) found a lower performance.

From a technical perspective, powder bed fusion technologies were the most utilized with 50% of articles using either selective laser sintering (SLS) or selective laser melting (SLM), although 52% of articles did not name the 3D printer used and 36% did not name any software used to design or optimize products. 3D scanning technology was also utilized in 11 articles (42%).

So, is 3D printing in sport a hit or hype? Based on this research it is clear that within academia, 3D printing is still in the very early phases of consideration, and seems to be significantly behind industry. While you may be able to go and buy some 3D printed running shoes or insoles, or cycle on a 3D printed saddle, you won’t find any objective data in journal articles on these products or much research to suggest that 3D printed products are any better than conventionally manufacture products.

– Posted by James Novak

Popular 3D Prints on Thingiverse

Anyone with a 3D printer will no doubt be familiar with Thingiverse, an online database of files that can be searched, downloaded and 3D printed; a universe of things. I’ve been using it for 7 years, and you can find many of my projects from this blog available there.

While the platform isn’t without its issues, particularly over the last year or so, it is still the largest 3D printing file database with over 1.9 million files at this time of writing – you couldn’t print that much stuff in a lifetime!

Because of the scale, many researchers have used Thingiverse as a way of understanding how people engage with 3D printing and file sharing, and beginning in 2018, I wanted to understand the characteristics of the most popular files on Thingiverse. My research paper has just been published called “500 days of Thingiverse: a longitudinal study of 30 popular things for 3D printing” and as the name suggests, involved tracking 30 things over a 500 day period.

The image at the top is one of the graphs from the paper that compares the downloads per day for these 30 things over time. At the start of the study, a new design called the Xbox One controller mini wheel had just been released and was all over social media, attracting a lot of attention and downloads. This equated to 698 downloads per day. However, this momentum didn’t last. In comparison, well established designs like #3DBenchy continued to increase in downloads per day, and during the period of this study, #3DBenchy became the first thing on Thingiverse to be downloaded over 1 million times! These numbers are beginning to approach figures on more mainstream social media and image/video sites, showing just how popular 3D printing has become. And keep in mind, this is just one of many file sharing websites for 3D printing, a topic that was part of a previous research paper I wrote with friend, colleague and fellow maker, Paul Bardini.

If you’re interested in all the details, I have shared a preprint version of the paper which can be freely accessed. Additionally, all of the raw data can be freely accessed if you’re interested in diving into the nitty gritty details, or even continuing to add to what I started. I hope this provides some insights into the scale of making and 3D printing, and some of the trends that drive the most popular files on Thingiverse.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Mounting Brackets

Brackets are pretty boring, I know, but being able to 3D print exactly what you need, for just a few cents, just makes good sense (see what I did there?).

I wanted to mount a LED strip underneath my kitchen bench top, but also wanted it to run off batteries so I didn’t have chunky cords to plug in for power. The set that I ended up buying had a battery pack which needed to be mounted along with the strip, as well as a remote. One option would be to use double sided tape, however, this would make accessing and changing the batteries painful. So, a simple bracket was needed. While doing this, I also decided to mount the remote so it wouldn’t get lost.

Like many of the projects on this blog, the entire process from CAD to finished 3D printed parts only took a few hours. Solidworks was used for the CAD modelling, while the brackets were printed on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus in PLA. A couple of screws up into the bench top and job done. Secure and out of the way, but easy to remove the remote and battery pack when needed.

If you’re interested in more quick projects like this, check out my special friction hooks or hex business card holder tiles.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Pineapple Light

3D printing light covers and lamps are always fun projects, you can’t really go wrong.

Continuing from a previous post where I outlined the process of designing sea urchin light covers for my house, I’ve still been wanting to design another light cover to mix things up so each room isn’t the same. Enter the pineapple light! 🍍

Unlike the previous process of designing the sea urchin light from scratch using a 3D scan, this time I was able to find something on Thingiverse that was almost perfect – this model of a pineapple. The bottom part had a really nice geometric pattern that saved me hours of mucking around in CAD and designing the same thing from scratch. This is one of the things I love about the 3D printing community – the open sharing of 3D models to be remixed (also known as a mashup) just like a song or video into something new and creative. You can read more about remixing in one of my previous tutorials.

Similar to the sea urchin light, all the pineapple needed was to be scaled to the right size, hollowed, given a thickness, and have a neck piece added to connect with the light fitting. This neck piece was directly imported from my previous project in Meshmixer (free CAD software), and both pieces were joined together. Nice and easy!

Just like the sea urchin light, these pineapples were 3D printed on a Prusa i3 MK3S in a natural PLA from eSun – it’s a translucent material which I found from previous experiments to work really well for light covers when given a very light dusting of white spray paint. The painted exterior still allows the light to shine through nicely, but just helps define the form better than the natural finish on its own. If you want to see exactly how this compares to the natural filament on its own, or a pure white PLA, check out my sea urchin light post. This design can also be 3D printed without any support material.

Best of all, you can download my pineapple light cover completely free from Thingiverse, Pinshape, Cults and MyMiniFactory! Just like the original design of the pineapple which helped me in this project, I hope this remix will help you in your own project – even if you don’t have the same size light fitting as me, with a bit of editing in Meshmixer or another CAD program, you can easily modify this design to suit your own needs. Enjoy.

– Posted by James Novak

Customising Surf Fins for 3D Printing

Early followers of this blog may be familiar with several projects to 3D print kiteboard and stand up paddle (SUP) board fins, including some fins you can freely download if you’re into kitesurfing. It’s been a little while between posts on this topic, however, I have been busy in the background producing a system to help people with no CAD experience design and customise their own fins ready for 3D printing. The full details have just been published in the Computer-Aided Design and Applications Journal.

Quite a few people have used 3D printing to produce surf fins – after all, it’s very cheap and means you can produce just about any geometry you like. Researchers have looked at the strength of different materials and 3D printing technologies for this application, as well as the performance (fluid dynamics) of different geometries. However, if you are not a relatively advanced CAD user, it is unlikely you will be able to design the fin of your dreams, no matter how awesome the research suggests 3D printing can be! This is what I was interested in solving.

Using Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, the complexity of a fin was condensed down to a series of limited controls that allowed for freeform experimentation. The above image is the interface that allows surfers to customise a fin design in real-time. It is based on a handful of common fin properties such as the fin system, fin position on the board, cant, fin depth, sweep, base length, base foil profile, tip sharpness and tip thickness, all of which can be modified using some simple sliders or dropdown menus. Feedback is also provided in the form of overall dimensions and volume. From the image at the top of the page, you can get a sense for the wide variation in designs possible from this simple interface.

Once you’re happy with the design it can be exported ready for 3D printing. I’ve 3D printed a couple of different designs for testing on my SUP board, the smaller white fin in the image above being 3D printed using FDM, while the larger fin was 3D printed using selective laser sintering (SLS). Both worked well in flat water paddling, although I’m sure some carbon fibre would give me a bit more confidence heading into the surf.

Hopefully some more to come soon as spring and summer approach.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Face Shields vs. Masks

As the graphic above shows, 3D printing a face shield is twice as fast as 3D printing a face mask. How do I know?

In my latest journal article called A quantitative analysis of 3D printed face shields and masks during COVID-19, I documented 37 face shields and 31 face masks suitable for fused filament fabrication (FFF, or FDM). The graphic provides the average data for all the different designs, including a range of qualities including the amount of filament required, number of 3D printed parts, total volume of all parts, and the dimensions of the largest part for each design (so you know if it will fit within your 3D printer’s build volume). If you’re interested in all of the specific details for each of the individual designs, all of the data is free to access here. You might also want to start with my first article analysing 91 3D printing projects at the start of the pandemic.

Why is this important? Well, if you look at the graph above, you can see that the print time and amount of filament for each individual design varies significantly. For face shields, the shortest print time was 46mins to produce a single part with 12g of material for the Version 1 face shield from MSD Robotics Lab. The longest print time for a face shield was 4h 34min (274min) and required 63g of filament, also only a single part from MITRE Corporation. This means that for each MITRE Corporation face shield you could 3D print almost 6 MSD Robotics Lab face shields. This is a big difference if you’re trying to maximise the quantity you produce for your local hospital or health centre. Below you can visually see how different they are, and why there is such a difference in print time and filament use.

Print times vary even more for face masks, with the shortest print time being 2h 14min (134mins) requiring 32g of filament for a 3-part design from Collective Shield (v.0.354). This design is 3D printed in a flat form only 0.6mm thick and then folded into a 3D face mask, often referred to as a “2.5D print.” In contrast, the longest print time for a face mask was 10h 32mins (632mins) with 130g of filament required to print 26 separate parts, forming a respirator style mask called Respirator V2 from Maker Mask. Both of these different designs can be seen below.

Assuming a price for PETG filament of $30/Kg, the cost of 3D printed components for face shields can be calculated to range from $0.33–1.95, while the range of face masks was $0.96–3.90. For one-off products these differences may not be critical to makers, yet when multiplied by hundreds of thousands or even millions (e.g. the IC3D Budmen face shield has been 3D printed over 3 million times!), the potential investment by makers, organisations, charities and businesses may vary significantly based on the selection of one design over another, or one version of a design over another.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the full article here. I look forward to continuing to bring you new analysis of 3D printing during COVID-19.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Oahu, Hawaii

Sometimes you see a design online and just have to 3D print it!

This is an amazing 3D topographic map of the Hawaiian island Oahu, and for anyone that’s been there you should be able to make out the airport, Pearl Harbour and Waikiki areas. Thanks to Eric Pavey who created this model and detailed the process of using a tool called Terrain2STL on his blog. It’s also available on Thingiverse. The detail is amazing!

For something a bit different, I wanted to do a two-tone print to separate the water and land. Using the Pause at Height feature in Cura, I was able to swap out filament after the first handful of layers, going from eSun white PLA, to eSun bamboo filament. I must admit, the pause feature didn’t quite work how I’d like it to on my Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus, not actually pausing the print and allowing me to resume it again when I was ready, but I was able to time my prints and catch the feature in time to quickly do a swap during the 30 seconds or so that the Pause at Height feature ran. All it did was move the extruder to the home position and extruded a bunch of material, and then resumed automatically. I might need to create some better G-code for this next time.

However, I’m very pleased with the effect, especially when you move a light around the model!

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing and COVID-19 in Data

Figure 2 Timeline

Following my previous post discussing some of the opportunities and challenges of using 3D printing to fill supply chain holes during COVID-19, I’m pleased to share the more detailed research I’ve been working on that supported my article in The Conversation.

Published here in an open access journal is an analysis of all 3D printing projects that were initiated during the first months of the pandemic. As a summary, the image above shows the timeline of these projects, and the types of products that were being produced. In total, 91 projects were documented in my research, with only 7 of these occurring before the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of a pandemic on March 11. Most of these were based in Asia. The remaining 84 projects (92%) followed the declaration as the pandemic spread around the world and health systems rapidly struggled to meet the demand.

The figure above also shows that 60% of projects were for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields and goggles, while 20% were for ventilator components, and a further 20% were for miscellaneous projects such as hands-free door openers.

200523 3D Print COVID-19 Data

Of the PPE projects, 62% were for face shields as shown above in the left chart. This includes the popular Prusa RC3 face shield pictured in my previous post, although the first documented face shield actually occurred on February 25 from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Obviously face shields are a relatively low risk product compared to components for a ventilators, and makers could easily 3D print these on desktop 3D printers.

The chart on the right above documents the types of 3D printing technologies used for each of the 91 projects. Perhaps it is no surprise that fused filament fabrication (FFF) was the most used, accounting for 62% of projects. Resin printing with stereolithography (SLA) or digital light processing (DLP) was the next most popular for 10% of projects, followed by multi jet fusion (MJF=9%), selective laser sintering (SLS=8%), continuous liquid interface production (CLIP=2%), and concrete was used in one project in China to 3D print concrete isolation houses for Xianning Central Hospital in Hubei. Interestingly, 8% of projects did not specify the 3D printing technology being utilised, suggesting that some projects lacked documentation or were reported by the media simply as “3D printing.”

While this review provides an overview of the broad trends related to the 3D printing of health and medical products during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing research is needed to continue monitoring 3D printed products throughout the pandemic to understand longitudinal trends. For example, does the initial hype from March subside and a more stable pattern of research and collaboration continue through April and the following months? Do projects consolidate and merge, with others ending as regulations tighten, or traditional supply chains stabilise?

It will also be necessary to analyse 3D printed products and validate them, particularly as the health crisis continues for months or even years. Initial 3D printing projects, while well intentioned, were largely unregulated and a reflexive response to direct and immediate needs. As supplies stabilise, and the infection curve flattens, more time and resources can be devoted to research, building upon the NIH 3D Print Exchange database of approved designs, perhaps developing an approved FDA or TGA database of designs as well as 3D print technologies and materials. These may be necessary for any future outbreaks of the virus, as well as allowing for better preparation for future health, humanitarian and natural disaster crises that may require a similarly rapid response to equipment shortages.

If you want to find more of the data and read the detailed analysis, please read the article here. Additionally, you can freely access all of the data I collected for this research, and continue building off it, by accessing it on Figshare. I hope it is useful for building our understanding of how 3D printing can be deployed during a health crisis.

– Posted by James Novak

Millions of products have been 3D printed for the coronavirus pandemic – but they bring risks

Header Image High Res

** Please note: this is a copy of an article I wrote for The Conversation, published on 5th May, 2020, and is shared under a CC-BY-ND license. You can access the original article by clicking here.**

With the COVID-19 pandemic, an urgent need has risen worldwide for specialised health and medical products. In a scramble to meet demand, “makers” in Australia and internationally have turned to 3D printing to address shortfalls.

These days 3D printers aren’t uncommon. In 2016, an estimated 3% of Australian households owned one – not to mention those available in schools, universities, libraries, community makerspaces and businesses.

3DEC Lab

A collection of desktop 3D printers in the Deakin University 3DEC lab. James Novak

Across Europe and the United States, access to essential personal protective equipment (PPE) remains a concern, with nearly half of all doctors in the UK reportedly forced to source their own PPE.

In Australia, reports from March and early April showed hospital staff reusing PPE, and health-care workers sourcing PPE at hardware stores due to shortages.

The global supply chain for these vital products has been disrupted by widespread lockdowns and reduced travel. Now, 3D printing is proving more nimble and adaptable manufacturing methods. Unfortunately, it’s also less suited for producing large numbers of items, and there are unanswered questions about safety and quality control.

Sharing is caring

One of the earliest examples of 3D printing being used for pandemic-related purposes is from mid-February. One Chinese manufacturer made 3D-printed protective goggles for medics in Wuhan. With 50 3D printers working around the clock, they were producing about 300 pairs daily.

Designers, engineers, students, manufacturers, doctors and charities have used 3D printing to produce a variety of products including face shields, masks, ventilator components, hands-free door openers and nasal swabs.

Many designs are freely shared online through platforms such as the NIH 3D Print Exchange. This US-based 3D printing community recently partnered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to assist with validating designs uploaded by the community. So far, 18 3D-printable products have been approved for clinical use (although this is not the same as FDA approval).

Such online platforms allow makers around the world not only to print products based on uploaded designs, but also to propose improvements and share them with others.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

In a public health crisis of COVID-19’s magnitude, you may think having any PPE or medical equipment is better than none.

However, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – our regulatory body for medical products – has not yet endorsed specific 3D-printed products for emergency use during COVID-19. Applications for this can be made by manufacturers registered with the TGA.

However, the TGA is providing guidelines which designers, engineers and manufacturers are working with. For example, Australian group COVID SOS aims to respond to direct requests by frontline medical workers for equipment they or their hospital need. So, local designers and manufacturers are directly connected to those in need.

3D printing provides a means to manufacture unique and specialised products on demand, in a process known as “distributed manufacturing”.

Unfortunately, compared with mass production methods, 3D printing is extremely slow. Certain types of 3D-printed face shields and masks take more than an hour to print on a standard desktop 3D printer. In comparison, the process of “injection moudling” in factory mass production takes mere seconds.

That said, 3D printing is flexible. Makers can print depending on what’s needed in their community. It also allows designers to improve over time and products can get better with each update. The popular Prusa face shield developed in the Czech Republic has already been 3D printed more than 100,000 times. It’s now on its third iteration, which is twice as fast to print as the previous version.

Prusa RC3 Face Shield

A Prusa RC3 face shield 3D printed on a desktop 3D printer. James Novak

Opportunity vs risk

But despite the good intent behind most 3D printing, there are complications.

Do these opportunities outweigh the risks of unregulated, untested product used for critical health care situations? For instance, if the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive two to three days on plastic surfaces, it’s theoretically possible for an infected maker to transfer the virus to someone else via a 3D-printed product.

Medical products must be sterilised, but who will ensure this is done if traditional supply chains are bypassed? Also, some of the common materials makers use to 3D print, such as PLA, aren’t durable enough to withstand the high heat and chemicals used for sterilisation.

And if 3D-printed products are donated to hospitals in large batches, identifying and treating different materials accordingly would be challenging.

For my research, I’ve been tracking 3D-printed products produced for the pandemic. In a soon-to-be-published study, I identify 34 different designs for face shields shared online prior to April 1. So, how do medical practitioners know which design to trust?

If a patient or worker is injured while wearing one, or becomes infected with COVID-19, who is responsible? The original designer? The person who printed the product? The website hosting the design?

These complex issues will likely take years to resolve with health regulators. And with this comes a chance for Australia – as a figurehead in 3D printing education – to lead the creation of validated, open source databases for emergency 3D printing.

– Posted by James Novak

Read more: Can 3D printing rebuild manufacturing in Australia?