In the 2014 Olympic Winter Games American freestyle skier Nick Goepper’s success made history for his sport and the country. He is part of Team USA and in 2014 won the bronze medal in Sochi for slope style. In 2017, he was 10th place in the FIS World Cup Standings for slope style. Also in the X Games in Norway, he received the silver medal in slope style. Another member of Team USA is freestyle skier Joss Christensen who in 2014 came home with a gold medal from the Winter Olympics in Sochi. These skiers are participating in this year’s Winter Olympics too.
Now, the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea are upon us, with many of the events taking place on the slopes, including alpine, cross country and freestyle skiing. Until now skis, snowboards and other essential gear has been manufactured but now it can be 3D printed. Engineers and businesses that are involved in 3D printing of ski gear may be eligible for R&D Tax Credits.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- Must be technological in nature
- Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
- Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
- Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, pre-profitable and pre-revenue startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.
Skis & Snowboards
Industrial 3D printer maker Stratasys has shown special interest in incorporating additive manufacturing into the snow sport arena. In 2014 Dominic Mannella, the senior applications engineer at the Stratasys Skunkworks division, designed 3D printed downhill skis. The manufacturing process required extensive research and development, resulting in many design iterations which were well documented.
FDM was the selected 3D printing method, primarily because of its ability to work with a range of production-grade thermoplastics that are suitable for extreme outdoor environments. The design required 50 layers of Ultem 9085 resin, a material which offers resistance to temperature and moisture fluctuations as well as the mechanical strength necessary for skiing. Custom production tooling was designed in SOLIDWORKS in order to cut the P-Tex base sheet, an industry standard in ski and snowboard fabrication. These layers, along with metal bindings, were bound to the base using an epoxy, resulting in a fully laminated ski. Strength was maximized without additional weight by designing the interior of each ski with a semi-hollow triangular fill structure.
Soon after, Stratasys Skunkworks’ principal engineer, Kevin Johnson, decided to create the company’s first printed snowboard. Although 3D printed snowboards require similar materials as 3D printed skis, snowboards must be designed with more flexibility. This proved challenging for Johnson, who was able to achieve a final design by independently manipulating variables using CAD software, such as length, weight, camber and stiffness. The board was made entirely from the Ultem 9085 polymer filament, which was able to be waxed before using due to its semi-porous nature. In total, the snowboard took three days to print and bind three layers. For this year’s Winter Olympics, Stratasys helped to design a sled for the US Luge Team.
Clips, Clasps & Baskets
One electrical engineer located in Manhattan 3D prints ski pole clips on Thingiverse. These clips can be used for storage during the off-season, as skiers can secure their poles together and mount them to the wall. Skiers can also use them to securely carry their poles while traveling to slopes to prevent them from clanking.
Also available on Thingiverse are printable designs for ski pole baskets. This piece goes on the end of the ski pole which is designed to stop the ski pole from sinking into the deep snow. These components can range from aerodynamic cones for racing to large snowflake shaped baskets commonly used in powdery skiing. Poles are designed to be aerodynamic on the slopes, so the basket must be designed with openings to reduce the swing rate of the pole when in use while maintaining balance.
In an effort to grow the sport, designer and engineer Franz Egger used additive manufacturing to develop a durable and lightweight ski boot called the EasyStand. The EasyStand ski boot is made entirely from Windform SP with the technology of selective laser sintering, developed by CRP Technology. In addition to being waterproof, Windform SP, a polyamide-based material reinforced with carbon fiber, is a highly ductile material with excellent mechanical resistance. The elasticity helps to absorb the mechanical stress of vibration or shock without breaking, resulting in an extremely durable ski boot. Furthermore, Windform SP can maintain its relative characteristics even at low temperatures, making it perfect for ski and snow sport applications.
Athletes competing in the Winter Paralympics are using 3D printed gear for a completely custom and ergonomic fit. During the 2014 Paralympic Games, Nordic skier Martin Fleig competed using a 3D printed sit ski designed specifically for his anatomy by the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM and industrial and research partners working within the Snowstorm project. In order to engineer a customized sit ski that would be able to withstand the stresses expected in a biathlon competition, 3D biometric data of Fleig’s movements were captured and were then used to design the optimal seating position. The first prototype was manufactured using a polyamide 12-high performance polymer fitted with sensors to measure the amount of stress occurring during each use. Another prototype was built which encompassed a “new physical model” which Fleig used successfully at the Notschrei Nordic Center in Germany.
Technology used in the winter sport arena has advanced greatly. Companies are now testing the limits of additive manufacturing in an attempt to produce high-performance snow sport gear that may someday be used by beginners and Olympian athletes alike. Whether in the prototypal or final development stages, companies leveraging a team of engineers, designers and other technical employees involved in 3D printing snow sport gear may be eligible for Federal and State R&D Tax Credits.
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Charles Goulding and Alize Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed skis.