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How Black Diamond uses AM to bring new climbing products to market

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Black Diamond Equipment, a Utah-based company that has been designing and manufacturing gear for climbing since 1957, has become an enthusiastic adopter of 3D printing in recent years as the technology allows the company to accelerate product development and testing and improve product design.

Today, the sporting equipment specialist relies on various Formlabs 3D printing platforms, including SLA solutions such as the Form 4 and Form 3L and the SLS-based Fuse Series, to rapidly iterate new designs and test them before moving into full production. It should go without saying that the testing process for climbing equipment is extensive, sometimes requiring millions of cycles for a single product. This ensures that when a product is finally brought to market it is durable, ergonomic and safe to use on the mountain.

In order to meet this volume for testing, Black Diamond operates a 3D printing lab that runs round the clock to deliver prototypes to various departments. “We have printers, both SLA and SLS, running every day,” said Product Design Lab manager Matt Tetzl. “My whole thing is promising next-day delivery of parts. For design reviews, it’s been really awesome. Instead of having a printing day and a testing or iteration day, we can do it all in one.”

Black Diamond Equipment
3D printed head lamp components made from Grey Resin V5

There are many products that Black Diamond Equipment has developed with the help of additive technologies, including headlamp components, helmets, trekking pole parts, ice tools and more. In the case of the trekking pole, the Black Diamond team 3D printed a series of fixtures used in the poles and put them through fatigue testing. In this particular case, Tetzl and his team had worked with the Fuse Series and Nylon 12 powder, which is the company’s go-to for functional testing. However, they also wanted to test out one of Formlabs’ new materials, Grey Resin V5, on the Form 4 SLA system. Tetzl explained: “Most of our functional testing is in nylon, but we did this fixture on Form 4 because we could try a couple of designs out within hours.” In the end, the SLA components demonstrated their viability, successfully undergoing more than a million cycles of pressure and friction testing with 35 pounds of pressure each cycle.

This Grey Resin material has also been used in the prototyping of helmets, which are printed on the Form 4, since it can handle the size of the product. In addition to the size, the helmets also require a high level of detail, which has been achieved using the combination of the new resin and Form 4 platform. Black Diamond says that having the ability to print larger parts, like helmets, in house has given it far more control over product development workflows by reducing time and costs associated with outsourcing.

Shoe Last 3D printed Black Diamond Formlabs
Shoe last 3D printed on a Formlabs SLS system using Nylon 12

In the development of ice tools, Black Diamond has turned to 3D printing to print full-size, functional prototypes that can be tested for grip feel, durability and hanging. “With ice tools, you can look at it all day, but it’s going to come down to grip feel. Being able to 3D print it and get a rough idea of grip feel and hanging is super important,” said Tetzl. At the 2023 Ice Climbing World Championships, held in Edmonton, Canada, for example, a climber was using an ice tool with a 3D printed grip (made from Nylon 12 on the Fuse 1+ 30W). When the part fell from 80 feet up onto hard ice, it has not suffered from the impact.

In other areas, Black Diamond has saved significant money by switching to 3D printing. For example, the company now 3D prints shoe lasts to speed up and reduce costs for footwear development. The lasts, which had previously been ordered from a service that lathed the manufacturing components out of nylon, are now 3D printed using SLS and Nylon 12 powder. According to Black Diamond, this in-house approach has reduced last costs from $2,000 to just $65. Ultimately, 3D printing is proving valuable across the sporting company’s entire product development portfolio.

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