For surfing enthusiasts, Australian pro surfer Mick Fanning’s 2014 Trestle surfboard is among the best out there – it’s “effectively the ocean equivalent of an F1 car,” according to Red Bull. So when Red Bull reached out to Canadian 3D printing and rapid prototyping service bureau Proto3000 about creating a 3D printed reproduction of the board, Proto3000 was thrilled to help.
Current surfboard production methods involve foam cutting and molding, which can suffer from human error, so Red Bull’s idea was to perfect the process by using digital technology instead. They originally contacted Stratasys, which recommended Proto3000, one of the biggest 3D printing service providers in Canada.
“The concept of this entire project was taking a traditional surfboard design and trying to replicate it with our printers,” Caius Tam of Proto3000 told 3DPrint.com. “Current methods require foam cutting and molding where there are human inaccuracies and kind of require artistic talent in order to achieve symmetry in the board. 3D printing basically eliminates the need for all that. The technology allows for us to produce highly accurate complex and very specific designs.”
The Proto3000 team used a Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D printer to print the surfboard in ABS-M30, a production-grade thermoplastic. The entire process took about a month, and the biggest challenge was the surfboard’s weight. A surfboard can’t be too heavy, or it won’t be able to balance or maneuver properly, and while the 3D printed board was just a prototype, the team still tried to get it as close as possible to an actual working surfboard. They were able to reduce a good deal of the weight by using a honeycomb pattern infill, but it was still a bit heavier than ideal.
While this version of the board was never intended to be used in competition, it does work, as you can see in the video below, and the team is looking into producing more sophisticated surfboards based on the Trestle model. Right now, they’re working on developing a dissolvable foam core to reduce the weight.
“A dissolvable core would be preferred for iterative versions in order to keep the board light weight. In the future we would probably print the frame/ribbing of the board with the same material and technology but largely design as a dissolvable core by wrapping fibrous material around it and sealing it,” explains Tam. “The final result would be a seamless wrap with a weight that is light enough for professional use- using minimal material for internal strength.”
No two surfboards are ever entirely identical, as they’re made by hand, but 3D printing could change that – meaning that if a surfer breaks his or her favorite board, a perfect replacement could be obtained. There’s also the customization angle, too, of course. The advantages of 3D printing, says Tam, go far beyond surfboards and extend to a wide variety of sporting equipment. (The company has already 3D printed other sports equipment in the past, such as a hockey puck.)
“We believe that 3D printing in the sports industry has a great future, not necessarily seeing 3D printed end use parts in the consumer market due to costs, but definitely as part of the manufacturing and design process for professionals,” he tells us. “Any sport where there is direct interface between a product and an athlete would see great benefits eg. bikes, snowboards, hockey sticks etc. We would see improved inefficiencies and increased lead times.”
Besides all that, there’s just the fact that a 3D printed surfboard is really, really neat.