A third industrial revolution is underway. Manufacturing is going digital and will transform the way goods are made.
This case study concerns the application of customized equipment using 3D technology in the manufacturing industry by presenting a real application case. It shows how the use of 3D scanner integrated with computer-aided design (CAD) skills can support manufacturers in building customized equipment (carbon fiber shin guard for football players) for the sports field which requires perfectly fitting equipment to gain competitive advantage. There are several ways to obtain a 3D scans of physical objects. All of them require to gain information on the spatial position of the surface points of the object. This can be achieved either by physically touching the object with a sensor or by using sound waves or light. Light in particular is very often used because it is accurate, fast, reliable and non-invasive. Structured light systems work with standard light instead of lasers, and project a stable and defined series of light patterns on the target object. The distortion of the reflected image is then captured by cameras, and the position of every point on the target surface is calculated from the distortions of the patterns. As a final result, the structured light technology is very fast and effective to scan low curves surfaces and highly detailed organic surfaces.
Having custom-fitted sport equipment makes a big difference in two key areas of advantage: performance and comfort. The use of 3D technologies together with sophisticated materials, allows players to wear equipment that can be considered real extensions of the body. Consequently, the movements are not influenced by other elements but are totally natural. The use of 3D scanners improves the works of manufacturers as well because by digitalizing the entire process companies can reduce production process’s time and costs. Indeed, getting digital data requires less time and generates repeatable results without material wasting. On the occasion of the Football European Championship hosted by Poland and Ukraine in 2012, the legs of national players from the most important football clubs have been scanned to create new, sophisticated and better-fit carbon fiber shin guards.
The project has been developed by two companies, “EGS” (technical partner) and “Campari Compositi Per Campioni” (manufacturer partner). For this project, the Artec EVA structured light scanner (see figure nr. 1) was used. It is an handle scanner designed for accurate, close-in work. The 3D scanner Artec EVA combines a projected light and cameras system. By projecting a band of light on a surface, the band suffers distortion according to the surface. The two cameras capture this distortion and reconstruct the exact geometric shape of the element, by creating a cloud of points. This process allows a perfect three-dimensional measurement of the element.
The first step of the project was to accurately scan the athletes with a 3D handle scanner to capture all surface’s details required for each customization. Two scans were used to capture the whole element: the first from one side of the leg and another one from the opposite side (see figure nr. 2). The use of 3D scanner improved the work with several benefits. On the player’s side, the shin guard’s quality is improved. On the manufacturer side, the production process is easier and more accurate.
After the scanning step, the two (ore more) scans must be aligned together in order to get the full element (in this specific case, the 3D leg of the athlete). During this step we pass from the point cloud to the mesh. In order to do this procedure the 3D software of the scanner (Artec Studio) was used. The scans can be aligned just by assigning 3 points on the first scan. After this, other 3 points were identified on the second scan. In this way, the software was able recognize the common surfaces and to merge them together. It is possible to see if the procedure has been successfully completed by looking at the color of the scan. Indeed, as shown in the picture n.3, each scan has got a specific color and the fusion can be considered good when the color is a perfect mix of the two single scans.
In case there was the need to do some work on the points cloud before the fusion phase, Artec Studio has got a command for the points cloud optimization. Thanks to automatic algorithms of the command, even not-expert users can complete the work in the best way. The digital process is not unidirectional: if something is missing, it is possible to go back to the scan step and acquire just the necessary part. It is necessary to transform the points cloud in a mesh (.stl file). This is called “fusion process” and means that all points are merged into triangles according to a certain order. Also in this case, the automatic algorithms of the system can optimize the final structure of the mesh (see figure nr. 4).
At this point, the resulting dataset of the scanning process is a three-dimensional picture (mesh) workable with reverse engineering software. In particular, has been used Leios, a powerful instrument for the 3D data elaboration.
Once in the system, boolean operations on the data have been used to enable precise modeling of the fit-out, customized perfectly to the athlete’s unique body part shaped. In this specific case, was useful to map the areas of excessive heat and sweat in order to design more comfortable fabrics. Moreover, thanks to the user-friendly interface, it was easy to close the holes by using the specific tool (see figure nr. 5 and 6).
Finally, a mesh offset (see figure nr. 7) was made for the realization of the customized shin guards in order to add the perfect thickness of 3mm for the terry cloth padding of the shin guard. The final realization of the product goes through the 3D printing process. The optimized 3D image of the player leg worked with Leios is printed out in a special material, which can resist to very high temperatures: the nylon aluminum. The Campari Compositi Per Campioni made the shin guards in carbon fiber. It guarantees lightness, overcoming the athlete hostility towards disturbing protections but at the same time it is as strong as steel. The carbon fiber is treated in the autoclave at 120 Celsius degrees. The polymerization process makes sure that the carbon fiber over the leg model is deformed according to the anatomy of it, ensuring a perfect adjacency on every single point. The procedures described can be applied in many other cases such as for anatomical protections for any part of the human body or for the creation of sports instruments and prosthesis (see figure nr. 9).