Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber is the First Player to Sport Partially 3D Printed Cleats in an MLB Game

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas, and I apologize for getting that song stuck in your head now. It’s the start of baseball season, and to make me even happier, the Cleveland Indians are 2-0. After having the World Series title stolen away at the last minute by the Cubs last October, I’m ready to move on, and there’s no better way to move on than by starting the season with a winning streak.

It doesn’t take much to get my Cleveland pride to flare up, and I especially love it when my hometown puts itself on the map in a way that relates to my work. I’ve had the chance to take a close look at 3D printing in Northeast Ohio, and I even got to brag shamelessly about the world champion Cavs during my workday in January, as it turned out that 3D printing played a big role in the production of their well-deserved, soon-to-be-replicated world championship rings. (Sorry not sorry.) I love cool tech and I love baseball, so imagine how excited I was to learn that the Indians have now also snagged themselves a piece of 3D printing history.

During Monday night’s opening game victory over the Texas Rangers, Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber became the first player to wear a pair of cleats with a 3D printed plate during a Major League Baseball game. Will that land him a spot in the Hall of Fame? Probably not (though his pitching might), but it’s still pretty notable from a 3D printing standpoint. New Balance, which made history itself a year ago with the first 3D printed running shoe to be made commercially available, approached Kluber last fall about a 3D printed plate the company had been working on, designed specifically for pitching.

According to Bryan Gothie, Manager of the Cleated Innovation Division at New Balance, Kluber was interested in the idea after New Balance explained the concept and how it could improve his performance, and he agreed to be the first to test it out in a game. A biomechanical data collection process allowed New Balance to study Kluber’s pitching motion and how he uses different areas of his feet as he throws a pitch. They focused particularly on how he locks the heel of his back foot during his windup and then plants his front foot while throwing.

Corey Kluber throws a pitch during the Indians’ 8-5 opening night victory over the Texas Ranges. [Image: Jerome Miron, Custom]

New Balance 3D printed a stud, or wall, on the outside of Kluber’s right cleat to keep his foot from twisting, and in the left cleat they added a curved wall at the toe and rotated the midfoot and heel studs to prevent Kluber from slipping while he follows through on his pitch.

“We really concentrated on getting the spikes aligned in a way that when he lands with that front foot, it’s not going to move at all,” said Gothie. “Again, that’s consistency…for him, knowing that every time he’s going to pitch, he’ll have the same exact experience.”

[Image: New Balance]

After several conversations with Kluber about what is most important to him in terms of mechanics, New Balance tweaked the 3D design and tested several prototypes during spring training. Kluber is now using the final design, and according to the 2014 Cy Young Award winner, the 3D printed plates make a difference.

“We’ve addressed a lot of variables so that now I have more stability, more traction, and just a better feel for where my body is,” he said.

New Balance has learned a lot from their test run with the 3D printed plates, too. 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular among major shoe manufacturers, particularly athletic shoe brands, because the level of customization it allows means that shoes for athletes can be designed not just to perfectly fit the shape of their feet, but the sport – and even the specific position – they play as well.

[Image: New Balance]

“The ability to have 3D printing at our disposal will really allow us to continue to push the envelope on what 3D printing can deliver and what the needs of athletes are and how we can react to that. We looked at this as, every player on the field has a different glove based on their position. Why wouldn’t a player want a spike built for their specific position as well?” said Dave Millman, Strategic Business Unit Manager for New Balance Baseball. “As we zeroed in on the pitching position because it’s the most asymmetrically-driven movement on the field, we felt there was a lot we could uncover there. We still feel there’s a lot more to uncover based on a pitcher’s specific motion and what their specific needs are.”

While 3D printed athletic shoes have so far been limited in production and out of the price range of most average people, that’s likely to change as the technology continues to evolve. For now, we can continue to watch and learn from the best as 3D printing takes professional sports to a new level. Discuss in the 3D Printed Cleats forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: SportTechie]

 

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