The quest to improve upon performance can lead to scandal, as it has in recent years with Russian doping, or it can be part of a legitimate effort to understand physiology or equipment in an effort to be better, faster, stronger, or more durable. Such is the case in the winter biathlon, a sport that combines cross country skiing with rifle shooting. Just to clarify for those who have not watched the sport, one is not shooting as one skis, but rather at targets that are placed along the course where a skier stops to shoot at a target in either a prone or a standing position, and then continues skiing. During each round of shooting, the skier must hit five targets or receive a penalty which adds to their overall time. The skiers carry the rifle for the entirety of the race’s duration and the winner is determined by time taken to complete the entire course.
In this year’s men’s biathlon at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the gold medal was taken by France’s Martin Fourcade who not only completed a whopping 12 seconds ahead of the runner up, Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson, but was also the only one, of the top seven competitors, to complete the final shooting round without a single error. The rifle that he used during his time on the course was one that had been developed by Athletics 3D – Olympics & Fitting and the prototypes for the design were produced in ABS on a Zortrax M200 3D printer. The company was founded by Clément Jacquelin, himself a Youth World Champion biathlete in 2009, who decided to dedicate himself to the advancement of the equipment rather than continue in professional sports. Jacquelin described how he arrived at his current pursuit:
“I have been a top athlete myself, a world champion. Seven years attending the top French engineering university programs left me with sufficient knowledge to make top-tier sports equipment. We started Athletics 3D to share our expertise and put everything we know about [the] ins and outs of biathlon into our products.”
The rifles used in the biathlon must weigh at least 7.7 lbs without the ammunition or the magazine and the targets are placed at 160 feet from the shooter. The accuracy of the weapon is extremely important as the targets themselves are only 4.5 inches in diameter when shooting from a standing position and 1.8 inches when shooting in the prone position. Skiing the course is strenuous enough without having to carry the extra weight, and as the final two shooting opportunities are undertaken standing up, and fatigue can impact the shooter’s ability to appropriately point the rifle, the ergonomics of the gun itself are extremely important.
The rifles are of a modular construction, allowing the skier to easily modify the configuration based on the variables of any particular race. In order to create the perfect set of components, Athletics 3D turned to 3D printing as a way to test and rapidly produce redesigns of the various pieces of the rifle. The increased speed of production combined with the low cost of 3D printing made experimentation easier and allowed them to create a better rifle, as Jacqueline explained:
“We have made several 3D printed prototypes. Zortrax Ecosystem did a great job prototyping the thing. We could get the feel right, the dimensions, the ergonomics…We work with the world’s leading manufacturers specializing in high-end sports equipment. It was their job to build the stock with intended, end-use materials. But it all starts with extensive prototyping, and for prototyping we have been using Zortrax equipment since 2015.”
This in no way diminishes the athleticism of the competitors, but rather reflects the way in which technology can and does allow them to perform at their best. As technology advances, we will see an increase in the producers of Olympic equipment utilizing 3D printing technology for both prototyping and production as the benefits for both maker and user are so clear.
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.[Source/Images: Zortrax]