Whether it’s a broadcasted professional basketball or a friendly game on a local court, most basketball competitions are impeded by air pressure loss. And usually, people don’t carry an air pump with an appropriately sized needle to refill it.
According to the National Basketball Association (NBA), basketball should have air pressure between 7.5 and 8.5 psi. (Pounds per square inch) The basketball won’t bounce properly if the filling pressure is below the specified range and explodes if it is above the standard range.
Considering these significant issues, a company called Wilson, which makes the official NBA game basketball launched a “3D-Printed Basketball” prototype during the 2023 NBA All-Star Game celebrations.
Have a read this blog to learn more about this innovative invention.
3D-Printed Airless Basketball
We all think basketball is an ordinary item, but it is also open to innovation.
The term “airless” implies that this ball doesn’t require inflation. It doesn’t require constant inflation to maintain its spherical shape. The best part is that it replicates the bouncing qualities of a typical basketball thanks to its distinctive structure and research-grade materials.
According to Wilson, unlike anything we’ve ever seen, this ball is made to function like the basketballs we’ve always known. The prototype’s surface comprises a lattice of tiny hexagonal holes that permit airflow.
Calling it an airless product invention may be controversial as the air can still pass straight through it, and it just eliminates the use of air pumps to make them bounce or absorb impacts.
Before Wilson’s technology, around 12 years ago, the Bridgestone company introduced airless tires for a single-seater vehicle at Tokyo Motor Show. These airless tires comprise plastic resin layers that deform to absorb impacts while maintaining wheel shape so they can roll.
A Prototype Developed Through Collaboration
Behind the manufacturing of the prototype, there were three main collaborators with Wilson.
The first is G.L. Labs, a General Lattice enterprise solutions business, which worked closely to convert the concept of a basic idea into a manufacturable product. The G.L. Labs team successfully streamed the design and iteration process by effectively using its computational design tools and services.
According to G.L. Labs CEO Nick Florek, the flexibility offered by the company is praised for enabling customers to integrate data throughout the design process to gain ideal solutions more quickly.
Moreover, this partnership with Wilson marks their latest attempt at broadening their nationwide commercial reach. As of 2021, General Lattice announced plans to expand its U.S. operations and U.S. client base with the help of $1 million in pre-seed finance.
For the design stage process, a 3D-printing solutions company called EOS became the game changer for this project as the basketball was printed using an EOS P 396 SLS 3D printer. Mostly its clients are from aerospace and medical companies.
For coloring and the last touch-up, the basketball’s outer skin and smooth black color finished surface were then created by DyeMansion using their Deep Dye Colouring and Vapor Fuse Surfacing technology.
The structure of the ball, which has eight panel-like lobes and a see-through black mesh, ensures that it does not require inflation before usage. The project’s importance was emphasized by Lester Hitch, Application Consultant at DyeMansion North America, who said redesigning the basketball—the game’s most crucial component—was “no small venture.”
This 3D printing basketball employs a powdered resin solidified by a laser to transform into ultra-thin stacked layers and can dye in different colors. It also meets the performance standards of a regular basketball and including its weight, size, and bounce capacity.
Yet the NBA has yet to decide to switch toward Wilson’s 3D-printed basketball.
However, the 3D-printed basketball debuted first during the opening round of the 2023 Slam Dunk competition held on 18 February when Kenyon Martin Jr. of the Houston Rockets used it.
Wider World of Sport with Additive Manufacturing
Wilson’s airless basketball is the latest example of how additive technology is used in sports.
The popular sports equipment manufacturing giant Adidas developed its 3D printed 4D midsole, the 4DFWD, by continuing its long-standing collaboration with 3D printing company Carbon in 2021.
Carbon company worked closely with Adidas designers to create this improved running midsole using their digital light synthesis (DLS) 3D printing technology. It was demonstrated that the 4DFWD could produce up to three times as much forward motion as earlier models under mechanical testing conditions.
Later in the same year, Adidas and the eyewear firm Marcolin Group collaborated to create the 3D CMPT glasses, which were then released. These 20g 3D printed sports spectacles will only be available for a limited time starting in August 2021 at $415.
Additionally, in 2021, the German design firm DQBD worked with the additive manufacturing business Stratasys to create custom bike saddles using the H350 3D printer. The DQBD firm claimed that the 3D-printed load-bearing components of the saddle reduced the lead times from six months to 10 days while also saving £22,000.
The company’s CEO, Sebastian Hess, emphasized the significance of additive manufacturing in the company’s business model by saying, “We designed the saddle with additive manufacturing in mind.” He added that this technology enables a great chance to customize goods in “a way that cannot be replicated with conventional methods.”
Wilson Sporting Goods Company, a leading provider of sports equipment in the United States, has unveiled an experimental prototype of what is being marketed as the first 3D-printed airless basketball. The Chicago-based 3D design experts General Lattice, 3D printer producer EOS, and post-processing firm DyeMansion collaborated to create this innovative airless ball.
According to Wilson, the ball’s weight, size, and rebound (bounce) almost match the requirements of a standard basketball. KJ Martin of the Houston Rockets displayed the playability of the prototype during the opening round of the AT&T Slam Dunk competition at a recent NBA All-Star game held on 18 Feb 2023.
Martin spoke to the occasion as “really special,” highlighting how Wilson’s creativity through this prototype “is so important to the future of basketball. “