In the January 24 NFC Championship game victory against the Arizona Cardinals, All-Pro Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis left the game with a broken arm. For most players, that type of injury would require an extensive amount of time recovering.
However, Thomas Davis is not most players, and said before last night’s Super Bowl 50 that he had hoped to play. Thanks to a 3-D printed arm brace made with a plastic and elastomer composite, Davis was able to compete. The Panthers lost the game 24-10, but Davis recorded five solo tackles and two assisted tackles in Super Bowl 50.
Within just eight hours of receiving a 3-D scan of Davis’ arm, Whiteclouds 3D Printing was able to design and engineer a unique, custom-made, 3-D printed arm brace. The brace was then printed by 3D Elite with Whiteclouds 3D Printing with a Stratasys Connex system for 30 hours. The brace is lined with PORON® XRD™, a soft and lightweight, sponge-like foam.
“Thomas Davis is already the ‘bionic man’ in our book,” says Scott Perone, co-founder of 3D-Elite. “This personalized 3-D brace lined with Poron XRD makes him a bit more indestructible.”
According to Whiteclouds, Super Bowl 50 marks the first time an NFL player has used a 3-D printed brace on the field. The 3-D printed brace was not the only option in the running to protect Davis’ arm, but it was the one the he chose over three other regular braces. Technology news outlet CNET reported last week that he picked it “for its toughness.” Plastic alone is enough to withstand the physicality of any professional football game, let alone the biggest and most physical game of the year.
Davis’ arm brace, while arguably the most publicized use of 3-D printing ever, would not be the NFL’s first foray into composite materials. In December, the NFL partnered with Under Armour, GE and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the Head Health Challenge to support the discovery, design and development of advanced materials that best absorb or dissipate impact. One of the winners was the University of Michigan, whose researchers designed a lightweight, multi-layered composite that includes a viscoelastic (exhibiting both viscous and elastic characteristics when undergoing change) material. According to the University of Michigan, this material can be used to help limit the force and impulse of multiple and repeated impact events.