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U.S. Open Tennis Racket Design Brought to Life with Metal 3D Printing

Electronics
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All Design Lab recently partnered with Protolabs to create one of the most unique tennis rackets to date. The design is inspired by the original inhabitants of New York City and tells a deeper story about tennis, The US Open, and the future of the sport.

The Hìtëkw tennis racket designed by All Design Lab and made by Protolabs. (Photo courtesy of Protolabs.)

The Initial Idea

All Design Lab is an industrial design and branding studio known for its quirky concepts. From the creation of a clock that denotes both western-time and island time, to utensils that help people eat more food per forkfull, the company is always trying to push the conceptual envelope and tell great stories through its products.

When the US Open rolled back to New York in 2022, founders of All Design Lab Andrew Lim and Anthony Saul Lopez knew they wanted to dedicate that month’s concept to tennis. However, they didn’t know what story they wanted to tell. All they knew was that wanted the tale to be compelling and incorporate the history of the land/event into their concept. So, began their quest.

Developing the Concept

Through their search, Lim and Lopez would become inspired by the Lenape Tribe. The original inhabitants of Flushing Meadows,  this indigenous community resided at what is now the site of the US Open between the 16th and 17th century. The firm’s design took heavy inspiration from the Lenape people’s wooden products and the trees native to the area. You can see that in the branch-like structures that intertwine within the racket’s neck and handle below. The first iterations of the concept were achieved using AI, but Lopez refined the later iterations and 3D models himself. All Design Lab named the racket “The Hìtëkw,” after the Lenape people’s word for “tree” and, with the organic, intertwining branching structures, the name fits perfectly.

A zoomed in look at the branching like structures found on the Hìtëkw tennis concept racket. (Photo courtesy of All Design Lab)

Making Hìtëkw a Reality

After the design’s initial drop, Lim and Lopez began to receive much media attention. They soon wanted to take their idea a step further, and see if they could turn that into a functional prototype. The team at Protolabs settled on metal laser powder bed fusion  (DMLS) to build the prototype and used light weight aluminum as the build material. At over 26 inches, the design had to be printed on the extra-large GE Additive X Line Metal 3D printers. The technology was a perfect match for the item and could produce the branching and organic structures, otherwise impossible to make with traditional manufacturing techniques. Protolabs was excited about the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of metal 3D printing to a wider audience and even said, “[they] hope it will also spark interest in additive manufacturing too.”

The Hìtëkw tennis racket printed using DMLS on Protolab’s GE Additive X Line Metal 3D printers. (Photo courtesy of Protolabs)

The Future

With all of that work, the partnership was able to create a functional prototype that can be strung and hit like a normal racket. The Hìtëkw is set to go on tour around Europe and The States in 2024 and be displayed at some of tennis’s biggest events.

I would love to give this prototype a swing myself and see how it performs on court. I am curious to see if it will feel like a normal tennis racket or something completely different. I am sure future iterations could improve on the engineering and mechanics if they wanted, but it may also open the door to redesigning certain areas to get improved performance as well. With many sports exploring the incorporation of additive manufacturing practices into products, I wouldn’t be surprised to see tennis giants like Wilson or Babalot inspired by All Design Lab’s racket in the future.

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