Kayaking, at least when it comes to competition at the Olympic level, means bringing the kayak, the paddle, and the athlete together as one.
The Australian kayak team, currently competing in the 2012 summer games in London, turned to 3D scanning and 3D software technology to facilitate that harmony, using the tools to design and build a custom fitout, a device that helps athletes take on the raging whitewaters while at the same time propelling the competition to the next level.
While at its simple definition, a fitout is custom parts of foam and wood for the seat of the craft, this team opted to go the extra mile because in the slalom race, the fitout can give athletes an edge since they have to maneuver through 18 to 25 gates as fast as possible, including some segments that are upstream. "A good fitout allows the athlete to use their full range of motion while transferring as much force as possible into the water," said Ami Drory, a biomechanist at the Australian Institute of Sport, who took the lead in pursuing ways to develop a better fitout for the Australian team, in an interview.
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The team scans Australian Olympic Kayaker Jessica Fox with Creaform REVscan to capture her lower body shape.
Traditionally, the process of developing a fitout is labor-intensive, and because you're relying mostly on trial and error, there is a lot of wasted material and it's not so easy to repeat results. Drory was also trying to create a dozen customizations in a limited amount of time -- a reality that prompted him to turn to automation and digital design processes, including the 3D scanning tools.
First, his team 3D laser-scanned the athlete, in this case, kayaker Jessica Fox, using the REVscan portable handheld laser scanner from Creaform and enlisting a webbing of point markers to affix the position. Another scan was done to capture the interior of Fox's competition kayak. Next, Creaform's VX Elements software was tapped to produce STL polygonal data files of the scans, which were then imported into Geomagic Studio, another software tool, this one for turning 3D data into precise NURB surfaces for use in CAD.
Both Fox's body scan and the kayak scan were processed by Geomagic Studio and saved as an IGES file for import into SolidWorks. The CAD system then provided the Boolean operations so the team could precisely model the kayak fitout, customizing it perfectly to the athlete's unique body shape. Repeating this process, the team scanned and processed 11 athletes' scans in three days.
There's no guarantee that the digital design process helped Fox bring home the silver metal Aug. 2, but the team is confident that the improved fitout helped shave some time off the clock, and they're certainly not alone. More and more sports sectors and teams are turning to engineering tools to improve their competitive edge. Just consider the professional athletes clamoring for Speedo's low-drag Fastskin Racing System, which relied heavily on CFD simulation to optimize its design, and the IndyCar circuit, which also employs a heavy dose of simulation to achieve its ground breaking records.