Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, has quickly moved from being an experimental research lab item to being a creative tool for innovators around the world.
Now, a French athlete is taking custom 3D-printed equipment to the Tokyo Olympics. The equipment design and printing were handled by Athletics3D, a French 3D-printing company that specializes in improving athletic performance.
Former Olympic silver medalist Celine Goberville will be competing in the 10m air pistol event at the Tokyo Olympics this month. To ensure she can perform at her best, she has been working with Athletics3D to make improvements to the pistol grip she will use in the competition.
Different designs were printed on the Zortrax M300 Dual 3D printer, a desktop-sized machine capable of high-quality printing without any supervision.
After going through a number of iterations, Goberville settled on a grip and took it to the European Shooting Championships recently held in Croatia. This was Goberville's last chance to test the grip in a competitive setting before the start of the Olympics. She made it to the final elimination round, where she won a bronze medal.
While Goberville was happy with the weight and shape of the grip, she wasn't entirely satisfied with the surface finish. Conventionally, shooters prefer a rough surface since it provides them a firmer grip. Goberville wanted a smoother finish, however, and the team at Athletics 3D got to work on it immediately. Their equipment provider, Zortrax, had a ready-to-use solution.
3D-printed items usually feature visible lines that mark where the printer finished adding a layer and began printing another. Zortrax's post-processing system, the Apoller, uses a proprietary smart vapor smoothing (SVS) technology that planes 3D printed surfaces using acetone vapors.
The grip was smoothened by hand with sandpaper and before being subjected to the acetone vapors in the Apoller in a process that lasts for more than three hours.
"One of the key reasons behind using the Apoller for this project was that it can vary the amount of solvent applied to different areas of the model," explained Athletics3D founder and CEO Clement Jacquilen in a Zortrax blog post.
"This way, the grip was properly smoothed and all the necessary details were kept intact with unchanged dimensions and geometry."
The company processed two identical grips that Goberville is taking to the Olympic village. She plans to use one and keep the other as a backup in case of an emergency.
3D-printed material is making a big appearance at this year's Oympic games. All 98 Olympic ceremony podiums have been 3D printed from over 24 tonnes of household plastic waste.