Florian Jouanny was the first European tetraplegic athlete who completed the Ironman Triathlon. Back in 2011, a skiing accident left him almost entirely paralysed. He has limited use of his forearms, triceps and hands, but can make pushing movements with his fingers. Biking is a big deal to Florian, and he uses a hand bike to compete at Championship level. These require custom grips to suit Florian's hands, and 3D printing was chosen to make them.
Clement Jacquelin, the CEO of Athletics 3D, took the project on. The goal was to make new grips for Florian's hand bike that didn't just improve comfort, but performance too. The rate of force Florian can generate with his hands (and therefore, the speed at which he can accelerate) is directly affected by the grips on the bike.
“We actually measured this energy in Watts. This way we could tell if we were making progress or not. What we were after was improving the energy-efficiency of the whole system consisting of the bike and the athlete”, says Jacquelin. Studying Florian's hands, custom grips were made to meet these goals.
The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most difficult competitions one can enter. It involves a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race, and a marathon at the end - depending on the course. The fitness levels required to compete at the highest level are beyond those of most professional athletes.
3D printing enabled the team at Athletics 3D to prototype a number of bike handles. For this, they used the Zortrax M200 3D printer, which has since been succeeded by the M200 Plus. The new model has a 200 x 200 x 180 mm (7.87 x 7.87 x 7.09 in) build volume and industrial-grade mechatronics, enabling it to deliver a reliable, consistent 3D printing experience.
The team started out printing the handles in Z-ABS but found the material wasn't strong enough to cope with the forces involved in gripping the handles and pushing them. They then moved onto Z-PETG, which made handles with a fine finish, but they still weren’t durable enough. Those proved to be too weak for pushing a bike forward for 112 miles. One of the early prototypes got broken pretty fast so we had to deal with it somehow”, says Jacquelin. They have now settled on Z-ULTRAT, a more durable ABS hybrid.
The fast print speed of the M200 allows the team to print numerous iterations of the handle. Florian even had a go himself, “I could take an active part in designing my handle”, said Jouanny. “Clement let me use the Zortrax M200 3D printer for a couple of weeks at home. This way, I could print my own prototypes out of Z-ULTRAT." Florian realised there was a lot of potential right away after testing out a few prototypes, “Now I feel like I can pedal more efficiently because the new handle is designed specifically for my kind of disability”, he adds.
Each time a new bike handle was 3D printed Florian took it for a test ride. This speed to application meant he could relay his practical feedback to the design team and have a new prototype in just a day or two.
The process is ongoing, but the prototypes are showing huge promise. Athletics 3D is working with Jouanny to get the handle ready for the September Para-cycling World Championships 2019 in Emmen, Netherlands. Him and the team are hoping his new bike handle gives him the edge. We are too, so good luck Florian. May the Ironman be with you.
3D Printer: Zortrax M200 (succeeded by the M200 Plus)
This information was first published on the Zortrax website. Top image credit: Laurent Salino. If you enjoyed this case study, you might find this one interesting - 3D Printing a Custom Olympics Pistol Grip with Zortrax and Athletics 3D.