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January 11, 2024
3 Min Read
At a Glance
- Future of tennis rackets
- 3DP aluminum
At first, Protolabs and All Design Lab wanted to show that you could make a tennis racket with 3D-printed metal. Once the object emerged the creators began to think they may have taken the traditional racket into the future.
Design and branding studio, All Design Lab partnered with Protolabs to manufacture Hìtëkw, a custom-designed tennis racket concept. The racket’s frame was conceptualized to break the mold of traditional tennis racket design by using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) 3D printing.
Image by Protolabs
Sounds like a good experiment, but then it found purchase in the tennis world. “The Hìtëkw tennis racket started purely conceptual. Then we received interest from pro and semi-pro players,” Andrew Lim, co-founder of All Design Lab, told Design News. Now we are searching for manufacturing partners to help bring this idea to life. We love how small ideas become innovations that could disrupt the market.”
Tradition Meets the New
Lim and his co-founder, Anthony Lopez had never created a concept for sporting equipment. Yet the 2022 US Open tennis tournament taking place less than 15 miles from their studio. They were inspired to give a tennis racket a shot. As they designed the racket, they decided to make it an ode to the Lenape Native American tribe, whose members stretched across the Northeastern United States during the 16th and 17th centuries. “We were inspired by the people that belonged to that region and imagery of products they used to make out of trees and natural materials native to the land,” Lopez explained that the Hìtëkw’s intricate curling branch-inspired design on the racket’s handle was initially conceptualized with the help of AI and generative design, but Lopez iterated different variations of it from there. “We wanted Hìtëkw to disrupt the imagery of the traditional tennis racket,” said Lopez.
From Concept to Prototype
Aside from aesthetics, practicality had to come into play for the concept. After all, someone would have to be able to easily hold and play with the tennis racket. The sheer concept and design of Hìtëkw was garnering a lot of media interest, so Lim and Lopez decided to turn to 3D printing to bring it into reality. “Our vision for the Hìtëkw tennis racket is to demonstrate how stepping beyond traditional boundaries can lead to innovative design,” said Lim. “We believe that challenging the usual limits of creativity makes it possible to explore new and exciting possibilities.”
As the idea developed, it became clear to Lim and Lopez that it would be nearly impossible to bring Hìtëkw to life via CNC machining or injection molding, due to the design’s intricate and complex nature. Protolabs’ metal 3D printing service became the clear technology of choice best suited to bring its organic geometry to life.
Hìtëkw’s 2024 Heads Out for a World Tour
With a height of more than 26 inches, the Hìtëkw is on the larger end for a DMLS-printed part. To produce it, Protolabs utilized two GE Additive X Line printers capable of producing metal parts at a large scale in either aluminum in Inconel. The All Design Lab team opted for lightweight aluminum to get a similar feel to today’s standard tennis racket.
Now that the racket is a tangible prototype, All Design Labs and Proto Labs are making 2024 plans to show it off to the international tennis community, both in Europe and the US.
About the Author(s)
Rob Spiegel has served as senior editor at Electronic News and Ecommerce Business, covering the electronics industry and Internet technology. He has served as a contributing editor at Automation World and Supply Chain Management Review. Rob has contributed to Design News for 10 years.
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