2018 Winter Olympics

Though the Winter Olympics are now over with, for the last sixteen days, thousands of athletes completed against the best in PyeongChang. Getting all they can to help them achieve victory those athletes went to extreme measures to make sure they have what they need to beat the competition. Advanced technology's have made some slight appearances at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Members of the US ski team, including Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, have been using virtual reality to train for the Olympics. Skeleton skinsuit engineers for Team Great Britain used 3D scanning and 3D printing to help giver their athletes a slight advantage over their competitors at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Sliding In For A Win

The luge is a sport involving one-or two-person sleds that can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour or more. Athletes race face-up and feet-first down an icy track. They steer the sled by either using their calves to flex the runners or by using their shoulders to shift their weight. When a sled part is being made, a mold, also called a tool, is created to form the part’s shape. Any design change in the sled calls for a new tool, which can normally take several weeks to create. One of the biggest advantages of using 3D printing is customization. Traditionally, athletes would all use one generic sled. Now sleds can be made as long or as wide as an individual athlete and in a fraction of the time.

During the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys helped with the USA Luge team go for gold by incorporating 3D printing into the design of their sleds. The Minnesota-based branch of the company has done its Olympic duty by lending its FDM technology to prototyping and tooling the fastest sled possible. The quick pace of the turnaround of new molds enabled the team to make quick changes to sleds and experiment with new designs closer-than-ever to the start of the competition. Two U.S. athletes, Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk of the men’s doubles, even used some of the 3D-printed molds for parts on their sleds during competition at PyeongChang.

The skeleton is another Olympic Winter Sport which involves using a tiny sled to plummet yourself down an ice track headfirst. When reaching speeds of 140 kilometers an hour, athletes require skill but also the right equipment. With just one body part out of place, athletes could go from gold to complete defeat. However, this didn’t happen for Elizabeth Yarnold and Dom Parsons, two members of Team GB athlete, who won gold and bronze.

In their case, these victories aren’t simply down to skill as they also received a slight advantage from high-tech skinsuits. These were created by engineers using 3D scanning and printing. Once you’re at the top, being marginally better than your competitors and having the right equipment makes a huge difference. Rob Lewis, managing director at TotalSim, explains that improving equipment aerodynamics can help athletes find small yet easier gains. He explains: “The lead skeleton drivers, they’re all good drivers… With a lot of sports you quickly find that being a good sled driver or being a good bike rider is fine – but being ten percent better at that doesn’t make you much faster.” However, using technology to streamline and test out your skinsuit before you even create it, certainly can.

“We need precision and we also need the ability to make tweaks, and 3D printing is where it’s at for this kind of thing,” said Gordy Sheer, marketing director for USA Luge and a 1998 doubles luge silver medalist. “As we learn more about aerodynamics and optimizing our designs, it’s nice to be able to have the ability to make those changes quickly.”

Gunning For Gold

Frenchman Martin Fourcade, winner of five biathlon gold medals at the Winter Olympics, has been shooting his way to victory using a rifle made with 3D printing technology. The rifle was developed by Athletics 3D – Olympics & Fitting and prototyped on a Zortrax 3D printer. The biathlon is an unusual sport: its two elements, cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, seem to demand almost entirely different skill sets. But perhaps that’s why so many people find the sport so interesting: it has been contested at the Winter Olympics in various forms for almost a century.

On February 14th, the men’s biathlon 12.5 km pursuit was won by Frenchman Martin Fourcade, whose rifle was made using additive manufacturing technology. It was a great advert for 3D printing: Fourcade was the only contestant to register a flawless final shooting round, and has also won four other gold medals during the huge sporting event. This unique biathlon rifle was designed by Athletics 3D – Olympics & Fitting, a French company founded by Clément Jacquelin, himself a former biathlon champion. Jacquelin’s company used a Zortrax M200 3D printer to prototype the rifle in Zortrax’s Z-ABS material.

“We have made several 3D printed prototypes,” Jacquelin said. “Zortrax Ecosystem did a great job prototyping the thing. We could get the feel right, the dimensions, the ergonomics.” All the 3D printed models of the gun were tested by Jacquelin himself, whose experience in the sport allowed him to determine which iterations were most suitable for the Winter Olympics. When the design was finalized, it was sent to a third-party manufacturer for fabrication.

“We work with the world’s leading manufacturers specializing in high-end sports equipment,” Jacquelin said. “It was their job to build the stock with intended, end-use materials.” The podium finishers after Fourcade, who is now France’s most successful Olympian of all time with five victories, were Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson and Germany’s Benedikt Doll.