US Olympic Luge Team Hopes for a 3D Printed Advantage with Help from Stratasys

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The XXIII Winter Olympics are currently taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea. It’s the second time the Olympics have been held in South Korea; the other time was the Summer Olympics in 1988 in Seoul. A lot was different back then. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, the Soviet Union was still standing and much of today’s technology was nowhere in sight. Almost no one had heard of 3D printing, and it certainly wasn’t being used to manufacture equipment for the Summer Games. This year, though, it’s played an integral role for at least one team – the US Luge Team.

Luge is a sport involving one- or two-person sleds on an icy track. The sleds can reach speeds of nearly 90 miles per hour. Lugers steer the sled either with their shoulders or their calves, racing face-up and feet-first. The United States has a strong team this year, with a brand new teammate – Stratasys. The company helped the team to design, 3D print, and test prototype sled designs, a process that took days where normally it would have taken weeks or months with traditional processes.

They then used 3D printing to fabricate the tooling for the finalized sleds, which took less than a week. The technology especially proved useful in creating the Doubles Tower, a composite structure at the front of the sled that lugers use to accurately position their legs. It’s difficult to fabricate due to complex, trapped-tool geometry, but Stratasys was able to do it in a few days, using its sacrificial, or wash-out, tooling material.

“Competitive luge racing is an extremely demanding sport where fractions of a second are the difference between winning and losing. Our riders depend on comfortable, aerodynamic sled designs to win races,” said USA Luge Technical Programs Manager Jon Owen. “In teaming with Stratasys, we’ve become much more competitive on the world stage – continuously adjusting designs and running them on the track much faster than traditional processes. Additionally, we’ve balanced both comfort and performance by tailoring the sled to each rider’s body, while minimizing fabrication cost and time.”

Traditional methods of composite tooling for the sleds are time-consuming and expensive, so creating custom sleds for each athlete was out of the question – but with 3D printing, the team was able to design sleds that fit the individual body shape and size of each athlete, rather than having them all use the same design. They did this by 3D printing the sled body layup tool, incorporating a removable middle section, allowing tool length to adjust based on each luger’s height. This improved both comfort and performance.

The US Luge Team Layup Tool on display at SOLIDWORKS World 2018

“We need precision and we also need the ability to make tweaks, and 3D printing is where it’s at for this kind of thing,” said Gordy Sheer, marketing director for USA Luge and a 1998 doubles luge silver medalist. “As we learn more about aerodynamics and optimizing our designs, it’s nice to be able to have the ability to make those changes quickly.”

Not only was the design process faster, but it resulted in faster sleds, or so the US team is hoping.

“When you’re dealing with fractions of a second on the track, a little change here or there could be the difference between a gold medal or last place,” said Stratasys Applications Engineer David Dahl.

According to Dahl, the sleds themselves could be entirely 3D printed in the future, allowing for unprecedented customization.

“There could be a point where you take a scan of the athlete,” he said, “and you’re able to print a sled that is custom and tailored to their body shape in the most optimal aerodynamics possible.”

3D technology has made appearances at the Olympics before, as well as this year’s Paralympics, but it’s barely begun to fulfill the potential it has to change the sports. Imagine athletes all competing with custom 3D printed sleds, shoes, skates, etc., leading to a level of comfort and enhanced performance that could result in competition being taken to a new level. Stratasys is all for it.

“Stratasys customers push the limits of performance, efficiency, and reliability for 3D printed rapid tooling, prototypes and production parts. Partnering with USA Luge highlights a perfect example of an environment where our additive manufacturing technology enables customers to meet critical needs in specialized applications,” said Scott Sevcik, Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys. “We’re proud to partner with Team USA, one of the best teams in winter sports, to help them apply the power of FDM technology to keep moving faster, in the shop, and on the track.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Sources: StratasysCNetTechRepublic / Images: Stratasys]

 

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