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How 3D printing can revolutionise snowboarding

From clunky protective pads, to uncomfortable mouthguards, the equipment we need to do the sports we love is often far from accommodating. But by combining engineering skills with a passion for snowboarding, one Deakin University student is shirking this standard and helping forge a new level of sporting innovation.

Binding agreement

Robert Leen’s love of the slopes is more than just a hobby. After mastering Australia’s mountains, he learnt Japanese so he’d be able to get around the runs overseas.

Leen, who’s completing a Master of Engineering, says the bane of all snowboarders is the same: the boots. Boot bindings ensure connection to the board, so body movements dictate direction. But experienced borders like Leen want more control and responsiveness, so they’re often forced to over-tighten straps, leading to crushed toes and distracting levels of discomfort. ‘The testing phase was a great excuse to hit the mountain,’ says Leen, who put the bindings through their paces himself on countless trial runs.

Working under the supervision of Deakin’s Dr Paul Collins and Dr Clara Alvarez, who encouraged Leen to explore engineering design, Leen 3D printed a prototype of a better binding. ‘A feature of the Master of Engineering is its emphasis on functional prototyping, which is central to the design process,’ Dr Collins explains.

‘Because snowboarding technology hasn’t changed much over the past 20 or 30 years, we were able to look at the new 3D technology available today and create something that wasn’t possible in the past,’ Leen adds.

His invention, the Griptight Snowboard Binding, replaces the use of the reel and steel lace in snowboard boots, which in turn eliminates pain, giving snowboarders a much more flexible option, and the control they desire.

'Because snowboarding technology hasn’t changed much over the past 20 or 30 years, we were able to look at the new 3D technology available today and create something that wasn’t possible in the past.'

Robert Leen,
Master of Engineering student, Deakin University

Enjoying the ride

It was a combination of engineering and design principles that enabled Leen to successfully eliminate discomfort issues. Leen’s creative work won him a finalist position in the Young Australian Design Awards, placing him on a solid path to achieve his goal of starting a winter sports design firm. ‘I am currently looking at design methodologies within sports technology, particularly collaboration between academia and industry,’ Leen says.

Globally, engineers are working in similar ways to improve the equipment required for elite competitions. For example, the bikes used in this year’s Tour de France have evolved dramatically since the early 1900s. French engineers made lightweight carbon fibre bikes that are faster, lighter and stronger than their steel predecessors. Wheelchair basketball has also been markedly improved by 3D printing, which has been used to create a lightweight and personally moulded structure, ensuring approved agility and comfort for players.

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