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wilson debuts 3D-printed airless basketball prototype with hexagon holes

first prototype of 3D-printed airless basketball


Sports equipment manufacturer Wilson Sporting Goods unveiled its bouncy 3D-printed airless basketball prototype with hundreds of hexagonal holes during the first round of the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest on February 18th, 2023. NBA player KJ Martin tested out the springy airless basketball to check if it would feel and be the same as a regular basketball used in games and courts.


The black-dyed, hexagonal-dotted basketball rebounds in seamlessly from and to the hand of the player and the floor, stripped of any air as Wilson looks into innovating sports equipment with less maintenance and through new technologies such as 3D printing. Wilson’s 3D-printed airless basketball prototype eliminates the need to inflate the ball every now and then.


The design team has relied on a 3D-printed lattice structure and research-grade materials to replicate the bounce of a traditional basketball. The surface of the ball is enveloped with small hexagonal holes to let the air pass through freely, helping the spring. The familiar seam structure of a normal basketball appears on the ribs of the airless prototype along with eight panel-like lobes. Wilson sees its recent development as a nudge to the company to devise the same design elements for other ball-related sports.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
screenshot images courtesy of Wilson Basketball



How did wilson create the prototype?


The 3D-printed airless basketball prototype of Wilson Sporting Goods began with a white powder bed and a laser that etched the hexagonal design of the ball in the powder, horizontally. As the pattern stacked up, the 3D-printed airless basketball came to life, and the team dusted off the mass of white powder bathing it. The team sealed the powder into the 3D structure with another machine before plunging it into a dying machine, coming out from its bare-white color to a total-black shade.


Wilson worked with EOS, a 3D-printing solutions company, to actualize the airless basketball. The company admitted that collaborating with Wilson for a 3D-printed basketball was different from their usual venture since they mainly work with aerospace, automotive, and medical companies for 3D prints. But EOS believed they could help Wilson bring the airless basketball to life.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
3D-printed hexagonal holes



More tests to follow


Rigorous testing followed for the first prototype to make sure that it would bounce and feel like air-filled basketball. Wilson says there is still work to do before the 3D-printed airless basketball hits the commercial stores and basketball courts since the first release is only a prototype, but the possibility of producing such an item, and hopefully commercializing it, is something the company is holding onto.


Wilson’s design team, which includes engineers, came up with several designs before settling on the hexagonal-holed 3D-printed airless basketball prototype. Their goal was to achieve a look that resembled a basketball, felt like a basketball, and also performed like a basketball. They also thought about the player who the team believed helped manifest the prototype since if a player didn’t love the way an airless basketball felt and worked, the production wouldn’t be greenlit.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
rigorous testing will follow to make sure the airless basketball suits the players’ game

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
the hexagonal holes let the air freely flow, helping the ball bounce


Wilson’s 3D-printed airless basketball prototype

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