AMS Spring 2023

Custom 3D Printed Wheelchair Racing Gloves Propel Australian Triathlete Across the Finish Line

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3D printing has had a major impact in the athletic world, particularly for disabled athletes, and we’ve seen 3D printed prosthetics and braces helping athletes get to the finish line in nearly every sport from surfing to snowboarding. Scott Crowley, a triathlete from South Australia, received a helping hand from 3D printing in the Commonwealth Games, which began last week. On April 7th, Crowley competed in the paratriathlon at the biggest inclusive sporting event in the world.

While he didn’t win this race, winning a very different competition last year is what led him on the path to 3D printing.

15 years ago, Crowley was paralyzed in a snowboarding accident. Since then, he’s been traveling and competing around the world in wheelchair basketball and triathlons.

He has a unique perspective on traveling due to being in a wheelchair, and discovered over the years that many other people with limited mobility did not travel independently due to a lack of information about accessibility.

Scott Crowley in action. [Image: SASI]

Crowley and his wife, Clair, were inspired by this to start a business together, called The Good Scout, which is a platform for helping people plan accessible travel adventures. Their business idea was to develop an accessible travel directory specifically for people with limited mobility.

According to The Good Scout website, “Born out of a desire to normalise disability travel and to further promote accessible travel options to the wheelchair traveller community, the couple also saw a huge gap in the market for accurate accessible travel information.

“Scott and Clair, along with their two young children, are seasoned travellers, but the lack of trustworthy information and truly accessible travel options available to wheelchair travellers and their families has been an ongoing source of frustration…until now!”

Scott Crowley at the University’s ThincLab Adelaide [Photo: Jennie Groom]

The idea was so good, it won the Crowleys a spot at co-working space ThincLab, at the University of Adelaide. In addition to providing business advice and mentors, ThincLab also has locations in France and Singapore, so participants can have access to the Asian and European markets. The co-working space has assisted over 800 startups since opening its doors in 1993, and also features a 12-week new venture accelerator. But it was a casual conversation at ThincLab that led to a 3D printed innovation that propelled Crowley across the paratriathlon finish line.

Morgan Hunter,  the TechLab manager and 3D engineer in charge of ThincLab’s 3D printers, asked Crowley how he was able to push his way through the punishing course. Crowley told him that he used gloves, which he made himself, during the final wheelchair leg of the race. The gloves allow him to hit the top of the tires on his track chair so he can keep going forward, fast.

Hunter said about the conversation, “Scott told me that he bought a kit that basically came with plastic beads that he melted down and formed to his hands.

“I thought, ‘that’s just crazy, there is no way that he could get the right shape and he must burn his hands’.”

ThincLab engineer Morgan Hunter (left) has helped triathlete Scott Crowley develop 3D printed wheelchair gloves he will wear in competition at the Commonwealth Games.

ThincLab’s 3D Studio is home to the latest 3D printers and fabrication technology, along with advanced software and materials and on-demand manufacturing services. With all of these available resources, Hunter asked Crowley to bring in his gloves so they could try to create a better solution.

Hunter said, “First up I found that there was a 50 gram difference between the right and left glove.

“So we modelled something different in plasticine, scanned it and digitised it in CAD and printed samples in the 3D printer.”

The two spent two months developing a whole new device for Crowley to use while racing. The 3D printed gloves, which cost about $100 each and resemble pistons that Crowley can grab with his fist, are made with Onyx carbon fiber-reinforced nylon from Markforged. This equals a large weight reduction of 145 grams, which will be a big help during long distance races – like the one Crowley competed in this past weekend.

Additionally, Hunter 3D printed two pairs for Crowley – a dry weather version with a rubber face, and a pair for wet weather, which will stick to wet tires thanks to an abrasive face.

Crowley said, “This is the first 3D printed glove I’ve ever had. It’s custom to my hand – it’s very light but still very strong, and it’s consistent. It’s good to have that consistency of shape.

“So far the new gloves have performed excellently, much better than my normal gloves. Because they’re light, they also help with recovery time. I’m definitely happy with the outcome.”

Australian triathlete Scott Crowley [Image: The Good Scout via Facebook]

Crowley believed that the 3D printed gloves would give him an advantage in the Common Wealth games this past Saturday morning. While he did not ultimately win the sprint-distance paratriathlon, like others before him he learned how to use the power of 3D printing to make a better custom adaptive product for racing.

Hunter says that anyone who is looking to develop their own product should visit ThincLab’s prototyping lab and design studio, which, at a competitive rate, is open to any aspiring product designers. The rate to use the studio also includes access to the university’s expertise in engineering.

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

[Source: The Lead]

 

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