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wilson releases 3D printed airless basketball with hexagonal holes

Wilson debuts 3D-printed airless basketball

 

Sports equipment manufacturer Wilson Sporting Goods announces the arrival of its 3D-printed airless basketball named Airless Gen1 on February 16th, 2024, a year after it was first introduced. Wilson says that the airless basketball is limited to 75 units for the Gen1, which relies on a 3D-printed polymer lattice structure instead of inflation to replicate a ball’s bounce, flight, and feel. The basketball features eight panel-like lobes and a familiar seam structure, with its hexagonal holes across the surface allowing air to pass through freely.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball
images courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods

 

 

Wilson bounced its 3D-printed airless basketball prototype with hexagonal holes during the first round of the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest on February 18th, 2023. During the game, Houston Rockets’ player KJ Martin tested out the bouncy airless basketball, sharing that he didn’t feel any difference from the actual ball used in playoffs. Since then, Wilson has refined the 3D-printed lattice structure and perforated channels of the airless basketball along with new dyed colorways including Jet Black, Natural, and Brown for a customized basketball. Each airless basketball in Wilson’s Gen1 has a number inscribed into the 3D printed lattice design to underline that it is a limited edition.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball
Wilson’s 3D-printed airless basketball arrives on February 16th, 2024

 

 

dyed airless basketball with 3D-printed lattice structure

 

The black-dyed airless basketball with hexagonal structure rebounds seamlessly from and to the hand of the player and the floor, stripped of any air. Wilson looks into innovating sports equipment with less maintenance and through new technologies such as 3D printing; the sporting goods company hopes to manifest it. Wilson’s 3D-printed airless basketball then eliminates the need to inflate the ball every now and then by leaning towards a 3D-printed lattice structure and research-grade materials to replicate the bounce of a traditional basketball.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball
the 3D-printed airless basketball is limited to 75 units for Gen1

 

 

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. 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.

wilson 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
3D-printed hexagonal holes on the surface

 

 

airless basketball coming to life

 

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
rigorous testing will follow to make sure the airless basketball suits the players’ game

 

 

Rigorous testing followed for the first prototype to make sure that it would bound and feel like an 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 3d-printed airless basketball prototype
the hexagonal holes let the air freely flow, helping the ball bounce

 

 

Wilson’s design team and engineers came up with several designs before settling on the hexagonal holes for the 3D-printed airless basketball. 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 could help the prototype, since if a player didn’t love the way an airless basketball felt and worked, the production wouldn’t move forward.

 

This article was updated on February 13th, 2024, to reflect the current updates about the story.

3d-airless-basketball-prototype-wilson-kj-martin-designboom-1800

Wilson’s 3D-printed airless basketball prototype

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