The NBA presents the first 3D printed basketball

3D printing is no longer content with dressing the feet of athletes. His rebounding ability is expressed right now in his hands. Adopted in recent years by many equipment manufacturers to optimize their soles running shoes, this technology is poised to revolutionize the design of a wide range of sports equipment. A few days ago, a new milestone was reached in the floors of the All Star Game 2023.

During its latest edition that took place from February 17 to 19, Wilson Sporting Goods, which is the company in charge of manufacturing the official ball of the National Basketball Association (NBA), presented the first 3D printed basketball prototype. Houston Rockets player KJ Martin showed off his skills in the first round of the dunk contest.

Dubbed “Airless”, this ball of the future is, to say the least, completely out of place with its classic leather counterparts. As the name suggests, this “airless” ball, or rather, that does not need to be inflated, breaks free from the usual solid structures of traditional models by replacing them with hundreds of hexagonal holes.

An approach reminiscent of the innovative tire concept imagined by Michelin. In 2017, the French giant caused astonishment by introducing itself vision, a puncture-proof car tire that could roll without air thanks to a 3D-printed honeycomb structure. A design that allowed for gradual solidity as one approached its center.

“With basketball being a “low gear” sport, changing the most critical element, the ball, is no small feat”

KJ Martin, the NBA player who presented the ball in the dunk contest of the 2023 All Star Game

KJ Martin, the NBA player who presented the ball in the dunk contest of the 2023 All Star Game (Photo credit: Wilson Sporting Goods)

The Wilson Sporting Goods design team appears to have taken a similar approach to designing the Airless’ lattice structure. At this point, we learned that they collaborated with General Lattice, a software developer that provided digital design services. The printed prototype is distinguished by its black mesh structure that allows air to pass freely. The designers also added eight fake seams, so its look doesn’t stray too far from the traditional balls we know.

As for the printing part, the company opted for the technology of German EOS, a leading manufacturer of industrial 3D printers. Therefore, the balloon was printed on one of their SLS (powder sintering) systems and then processed. by Dye Mansion which was responsible for providing its color solutions and finishes. ” DyeMansion added the finishing touches to create the smooth finished surface and colored exterior using its VaporFuse Surfacing and DeepDye Coloring technology. EOS explained. “With basketball being a “low gear” sport, changing the most critical element, the ball, is no small feat”adds Lester Hitch, application consultant at DyeMansion North America.

Although it’s only a prototype, as amazing as it may be, this 3D printed ball almost meets the performance specifications of a regulation basketball, including weight, size and rebound. However, if “Airless” presents the common desire for innovation between Wilson and the NBA, the two partners specify that for the time being no changes will be made to the official game ball of the Wilson NBA. This will continue to be made using traditional techniques, with an air chamber and eight leather panels.

« This is my first time at the NBA All-Star festivities, and to do it with Wilson, in such a memorable way on a big stage here in Utah, is really special.”KJ Martin said. « The game continues to evolve with each generation of players, and having a brand partner that continues to push the boundaries through innovation is so important to the future of basketball. »

Alexandre Moussion
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