3D printing has officially made its debut at the 2018 Winter Olympics, courtesy of the United States luge team. In a partnership with Stratasys, the team got on board with incorporating additive manufacturing in an attempt to make their sled lighter and quicker.
For those not aware, the sport of luge is like bobsledding on your back. Depending on the competition, either one or two people will lie down on a sled, eyes up, and careen at up to 90 mph down a winding ice track not unlike the ones you see in bobsledding. The major difference this year is that Team USA will be lying down on top of sleds that were manufactured, in part, using 3D printing.
The relatively short time it takes to print replacement parts for the sled was the major appeal that additive manufacturing presents USA Luge. Creating molds for new parts on the fly as the team learns critical facts about its environment, the track, and their own sled’s performance is not always practical, but 3D printing helps speed up that process. Stratasys created those molds, referred to as tools, in less than one week.
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. 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.
Part of the sleds’ bodies were created using additive manufacturing, as was a component referred to as the ‘tower’, which lies below the lugers' legs when they are lying down. These are obviously critical parts of the sled, parts that go a long way to determining whether the team will ultimately take home the gold. And, for those parts, the team made the determination that 3D printing was the way to go. That’s quite the endorsement.
Using the Stratasys Fortus 900mc printer to create the tools and ultimately the sleds, which are made of fiberglass, the team has found a quicker, more adjustment-ready method to creating their sleds. In the past, the team has commissioned the likes of U.S. Steel for such a job, but now they are looking to methods that will be more prevalent in the future, and so far they like the results.