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3D printed fins take surfing to the next level
Custom-designed surfboard fins will allow surfers to fine-tune their performance.
Researchers at UOW are creating custom-designed 3D printed surfboard fins that allow surfers to improve their performance in the water.
The project, part of UOW’s Global Challenges program, aims to rethink current surf fin designs and manufacturing techniques in order to create new shapes, sizes and materials that are more efficient and tailored to the individual surfer’s needs and the waves they ride.
“We want to come up with new, more efficient fins that can be bespokely designed for a particular surfer and a particular wave,” Project leader Professor Marc in het Panhuis said.
Professor in het Panhuis is the Associate Dean (International) of UOW’s Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and an expert in new materials. He said while there is a lot of flexibility to customise surfboards, it is currently too expensive to customise fins, which aid stability and control while riding a wave.
“Most current techniques involve moulds that are expensive to make and hence, are harder to customise based on individual surfer’s needs. In contrast, 3D printing is a process that allows for rapid prototyping and rapid optimisation of designs for individual surfers.”
In order to compile data on fin and surfing performance, Professor in het Panhuis has been using a small GPS tracking device that is fitted to the nose of the boards of an intermediate surfer and a talented club rider. The data is compared to that of a pro rider on the world tour circuit who has been surfing with a similar tracking device.
This device tracks everything from wave count and top speed to the biggest turn and highest air and will be an important tool in evaluating the performance of the new designs.
Professor in het Panhuis and his team have already tracked more than 1,400 waves and 1,100 turns and have produced several fins using the 3D printing equipment at the Australian National Fabrication Facility.
Once the designs have been finalised, Professor in het Panhuis hopes to bring the new technique to market.
“We’re already talking to a number of local surfboard manufacturers in who are interested. We hope to offer the customised service in Wollongong first and then eventually expand it.”
Global Challenges Manufacturing Innovation Leader Professor Geoff Spinks said the project has the potential to strengthen Australia’s competitive edge in certain niche manufacturing industries.
“Australian surfboard makers are some of the best in the world, but they face strong competition from cheaper imports. To stay in business they must offer a high quality product that meets the customer needs.
“This project could take that engagement to a new level by individually tailoring the surfboard fins to the needs and abilities of the individual surfer.”
Professor Spinks said while the project is focused on assisting established surfers to improve their performance it also has the potential to encourage more people to take up surfing.
“It’s really an example of mass-customisation, which is becoming a reality in many manufactured products. No longer do consumers need to accept the ‘one size fits all’ principle.
“When this project wraps up, we hope that surfboards can be designed completely for the individual, making it easier for people of all ages and sizes and abilities to have a go.”
The multi-disciplinary team of students and academics working on this project includes, computational fluid dynamics experts, who will optimise the flow of the water around the fin, biomechanics specialists, who will study the effect of translational forces from the surfer and waves, human geographers, who will look at surfers’ perception of their performance, 3D printing experts from the Australian National Fabrication Facility as well as volunteer surfers from the Wollongong region.
UOW’s Global Challenges Program is a major research initiative designed to address the complex problems facing the world through multidisciplinary research. ‘Manufacturing Innovation’ is one of the central challenges, focusing on local creative and experimental manufacturing processes and the social and cultural impacts of the changing technologies on individuals and communities.