3D printing and football might not necessarily be intuitively linked. But, as we’ll show you in this blog post, there’s more of a connection than you would think. With the Euros rapidly approaching and Scotland actually competing in a major international tournament for the first time since 1998, it’s a good time to think about how 3D printing can influence the world’s most popular team sport.
The most basic, fundamental rule of football is obviously scoring. But an important part of that is not getting hurt on the pitch, and since shins are in harm’s way when running with the ball, you’ll need shin guards at any level of football. These are usually long strips of some resistant material – usually fiberglass or Polyurethane at the top level – which protect the front part of the shin from a sore impact. Attempts have been made to create a 3D printed shin guard, the most notable of which has come from the appropriately named Zweikampf (that’s duel in English) from Austria. The idea behind Zweikampf was to create personalized, durable, lightweight shin guards that could launch 3D printing and football into a new trajectory. Sadly, the project failed to get off the ground on Kickstarter – but the fact it was even feasible shows how 3D printing could yet make a big impact upon traditional protective wear.
Speaking of protective wear, another way 3D printing and football could be linked in the future is via protective wear. You may have seen various high-profile footballers wearing eye masks (such as Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea wore in the recent Champions League final) and even headgear (such as legendary keeper Petr Cech wore for much of his career). These are not fashion statements. In football head injuries are common, due to heading being such a prominent part of the game. Indeed, Ruediger (middle image) managed to accidentally fracture the nose and left orbital bone of Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne in the recent CL final. Cech (bottom image) wore his famous headgear after suffering a depressed skull fracture in 2006, and never played again without it. 3D printing protective wear offers a more personalized fit and a lighter weight, essential in the lightning-quick modern game. Both Cavendish Imaging and Younext offer 3D printed protective gear, with Spain and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos (top image) even donning a 3D printed protective mask at one point.
3D printing and football, as can be seen, could very neatly work together in the near future. Well, the one thing every footballer needs, even if they are brave or stupid enough to play without any protective gear or shin guards, is boots. And the boot industry is a multi-million dollar one, with brands like Adidas, Puma, Nike, New Balance and Mizuno all fighting over the sponsorship and boot market. But Adidas may have got a leg up on the competition. Adidas have unveiled the Futurecraft ‘STRUNG’ shoe, which uses 3D printing techniques in production. Using DLS (Digital Light Synthesis) technology, the 3D printed running shoe can be produced in only 20 minutes, and can be fully crafted to the foot of the runner. While for now it’s eye-wateringly expensive at £20k a pop, with mass production the price could very well soon drop. And if you can print a running shoe, there’s no reason why football boots couldn’t follow suit very soon. As well as this, boots matter a lot to footballers. Personally, I always wore traditional black leather Puma boots in contrast to flashier Nike designs which were popular. This is also because Nike boots were far narrower, whereas the wide-footed player will prefer leather Pumas. And I never played at a high level. For pro footballers, boots are everything. So, there’s no reason why boot manufacturers wouldn’t want to start looking to 3D printing to cheaply manufacture bespoke boots for the stars.
While this one may be on the speculative side, there’s no reason why footballs could not be 3D printed. Increasingly synthetic materials are used to manufacture balls in the wake of the revelations that heavier balls were linked to increased incidences of Alzheimer’s Disease in former players. This is where 3D printing could step in. Hand-making footballs is a slow process, and takes up a lot of labour power. 3D printing could remove this arduous process and instead quickly and safely produce footballs. Stratasys have managed to 3D print an American football, so there is absolutely no reason why soccer shouldn’t follow suit.