3D Printing at the Winter Olympics

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by Noah Mostow

This weekend marks the end of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. I am always impressed by the athletes. Nils van der Poel of Sweden broke his previous world record for speed skating the 10 km (6.2 miles). The U.S. team will return home with many metals in several events, including freestyle skiing and the monobob. Race times continue to improve, which makes me think about David Epstein’s 2014 TED Talk titled “Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?”

Most producers of athletic equipment are likely using additive manufacturing (AM) for prototyping but rarely for production. For the most part, the equipment is similar and highly regulated, so the performance of the athletes is ranked by talent and skill. However, I learned that this is not the case for some sports, such as bobsledding. Beyond baseline requirements, such as safety, weight, and some elements of design, the teams can work with engineers to improve the aerodynamics and features of the sled.

This was the first year for the women’s monobob. Women race at 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour) and all sleds are the same. The only differences are the women pushing and driving the sled. However, some athletes may gain some an advantage from their shoes. BMW Group has worked to optimize the spikes for the shoes. In the monobob, it may not have had a favorable impact because the U.S. won gold and silver and Canada won bronze. I like the excitement surrounding the Olympics and hope that as the equipment improves, every team can benefit from the new technology.

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