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German Bobsleigh racing spikes it up with a BMW 3D printer

The Bobsleigh and Sled Association is working on technology transfer from the automotive industry to the ice track

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The Bobsleigh and Sleigh Association for Germany (BSD) is about to start a new season, with two major highlights for the home audience: the FIL Luge World Championships (January 22nd to 28th, 2024, Altenberg) and the BMW IBSF World Championships Bobsleigh and Skeleton (February 19 to March 3, 2024, Winterberg). The BSD wants to continue its success story in the World Cup and at major international events and is building on the technology partnership with the BMW Group, which has existed since 2010, getting some help from metal 3D printing.

Those disciplines in which the material plays an important role – such as luge, bobsleigh and skeleton sports – particularly benefit from the BMW Group’s expertise, technological possibilities and innovative strength in the automotive industry and motorsport. At the BSD season-opening press conference at the BMW Dresden branch today, the two projects on which BMW technology transfer is focused this season were presented: the “BMW data coach” in luge and spike plates for shoes in bobsleigh. The ladder, in particular, turned specifically to BMW’s metal additive manufacturing know-how and capabilities.

German Bobsleigh racing spikes it up with a BMW 3D printer working on technology transfer from the automotive industry to the ice track Getting the Bobsleigh started with 3D printing

It’s no secret that start times play a very important role in bobsledding, as they determine the speed that the sled takes into the ice track – you won’t find an “accelerator pedal” for that. To translate the athletes’ athletic abilities into the acceleration of the sports equipment when pushing on ice, the right footwear is required. The power is transmitted solely via spike plates on the soles of the forefoot. There are more than 250 small, sharp teeth per shoe that have to bring enormous forces into the ice. Improvements to these plates lead directly to the optimization of performance in the ice track.

Once again, it is the technology transfer from automotive development and production that BMW and BSD have been using to continually improve the spike plates for the past three years. 3D printing has long been established as an innovative process – the technology experts at BMW have been relying on it since 1991 and have established 3D printing throughout the entire product life cycle, from the concept idea of ​​a vehicle through production to spare parts.

This technology is perfect for the spike plates in bobsleigh, which until now have basically only come off the shelf. 3D printing opens up completely new possibilities. Performance factors such as geometry – where exactly are the spikes placed? – the number of struts and teeth as well as the weight can be varied efficiently, the spike plates can be printed quickly and cost-effectively and tested by the athletes. Until the optimal result is achieved. Nothing is standard anymore, on the contrary: thanks to the efficiency of the process, individual plates can be manufactured for every athlete. The ongoing optimizations should be completed by the 2026 Winter Olympics at the latest. The experts also focus on the stiffness of the plates and therefore the shoes – because not every athlete performs best with the same stiffness of the shoes.

German Bobsleigh racing spikes it up with a BMW 3D printer working on technology transfer from the automotive industry to the ice track Spiking it up with BMW

Another milestone on the way there was reached this year. There are now various materials available for 3D printing for the spikes, which are being tested by the athletes. The use of special construction software is also new. It is used to optimize components for the vehicles but also equipment for the BMW Group production systems in the factories in terms of weight and rigidity. This software also helps the engineers at the BMW Group in the design of the spike plates. It allows the rapid, automated and, above all, individually adapted creation of the respective 3D printing data. The parameters preferred by each athlete – such as geometry, stiffness, number and shape of spikes – are automatically incorporated into the design and adapted to the individual shoe. 3D scans of the athletes’ shoes serve as the basis here. This algorithmic design process results in enormous time savings and the greatest possible variability.

In the 2023/24 season, BMW will not only be present at the international ice channels as the BSD’s technology partner, but will also continue to be the title partner of the BMW IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cup and the BMW IBSF Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships, as well as the main sponsor of the FIL Luge World Cup and the FIL Luge World Championships.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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