3D printing to make NFL debut at Super Bowl 50

A 3D-printed sleeve will help get a key, but injured, player onto the field for the Carolina Panthers.

Thomas Davis 3D printed sleeve Carolina Panthers Super Bowl 50
Credit: Reuters/Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers (and NFL All-Pro) linebacker Thomas Davis vowed nearly two weeks ago that he wouldn't let a broken arm and subsequent surgery keep him from playing in his first Super Bowl.

It seemed unlikely at the time, but with Super Bowl 50 just a few days away, Davis has turned to 3D printing technology to help get him and the right arm he broke in the last game he played onto the field. 3-D Elite and Whiteclouds designed and 3D printed a custom sleeve to support the metal plate and 12 screws currently holding Davis's arm together.

3d printed sleeve Thomas Davis Carolina Panthers Whiteclouds

The companies made clear that the sleeve will be the first piece of 3D-printed equipment to be used on the field during an NFL game, but more broadly, it will probably be the best-known use of 3D printing since the first 3D-printed gun fired its first shot in May 2013.

The technology gained widespread publicity shortly after Defense Distributed showed its almost-entirely 3D-printed gun (the only part that wasn't 3D printed was the firing pin, which was just a nail), particularly in the healthcare market. 3D printing technology gained widespread attention for its role in developing custom implants for traumatic cases, where traditional implant manufacturers fail to provide solutions to very specific medical issues.

If nothing else, that'll be the main takeaway from the use of 3D printing during the country's most televised event of the year. Sometimes, patients who need implants for very specific medical issues can't find a solution. Traditional manufacturers need to mass-produce implants in order to make a profit, and mass-produced implants don't always fit very specific needs. A 3D printer can produce one solution designed for one specific need.

If Thomas Davis plays – and plays well – thanks to the custom-designed, 3D-printed sleeve holding its arm together, a whole lot of people will hear about it.

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