The 2020 Paralympic Games just opened in Tokyo, Japan, and one of the participants is Joe Townsend, a paratriathlete who has previously competed, representing Great Britain, in the Paralympics, Invictus Games, National and World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and Ironman, and won plenty of medals at all of them. The 33-year-old from Eastbourne lost both of his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2008 when he was serving as a Commando with the Royal Marines, and has aspirations of working in elite sports as a Strength and Conditioning coach. Having come in sixth in the men’s PT1 event at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016, Townsend was obviously looking to improve upon his performance for this year’s games, and turned to 3D printing to do just that.
Townsend has prior experience with 3D printing bespoke parts, but had run into difficulties with the equipment on the market that he’d used before, finding the systems not up to the task of producing strong adaptive parts for his adaptive racing bike as he worked to attain “physical and mechanical perfection.” So he decided to reach out to Solid Print3D, the sister business of Solid Solutions, which is the UK’s largest SOLIDWORKS reseller; Solid Print3D itself offers a range of 3D printing services and products, including 3D printers, 3D scanners, and consumables.
Through Solid Print3D, Townsend discovered Markforged technology, which seemed like the perfect solution for 3D printing high quality, high strength custom end-use parts for his adaptive bike. Specifically, the paratriathlete decided to use the desktop Markforged Mark Two 3D printer—the company’s flagship continuous carbon fiber composite system—to fabricate the bespoke bike parts.
Townsend first had the idea to adapt the handgrips he uses to pedal his adaptive bike. Not only do these need to fit perfectly in the athlete’s hand, but they also have to be strong enough to hold up under the large amount of force the athletes put through the handles—therefore, quality and strength are of the utmost importance. But shoulder injuries are a real fear here as well, again due to the amount of repeated force, and so he also decided to redesign and 3D print his bike cranks as well. They are now set in the perfect location for his shoulders so he can achieve as much power as possible through the cranks without worrying about hurting his shoulders during the race.
“Another set of beautiful custom handgrips on their way out the door,” Townsend wrote in an Instagram post. “With the Markforged Mark-Two we can make bespoke parts that are strong, durable & beautiful.”
Once the initial handgrips and bike cranks had been printed and tested, Townsend and Solid Print3D determined that carbon fiber-reinforced parts could definitely deliver both the necessary strength and quality. Thanks to the Mark Two, they were able to fabricate bespoke parts that had a better strength to weight ratio than aluminum, which will help Townsend when he competes in the paratriathlon later this week.
Several other Paralympians besides Townsend have used 3D printing to adapt their equipment for the competition, as the technology allows for production and testing of parts, as well as refining them to ensure a perfect fit without upfront costs, long lead times, or costly tooling.
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