3D printing prototypes the way of the future

UOW Team Professor Marc in het Panhuis, with Professor Julie Steele, fitting the fins.

As an enthusiastic surfer, when Kiama Downs’ Professor Marc in het Panhuis wanted to demonstrate the suitability of 3D printing for rapid prototyping, it was natural for him to focus on creating a better fin.

“There is no such thing as a simple surfboard fin,” explains the Professor in Chemistry at the University of Wollongong, after working on 3D printed surfboard fin designs for the past four and a half years.

“You have to consider the fin base, depth, rake (or sweep), foil, cant, toe and flex. Not to forget the number of fins and their positioning on the board.”

The process of creating accurate prototypes has been time consuming and expensive until now, with the advent of 3D printing.

“We want to show local manufacturers that they can  benefit from using technology to enable rapid prototyping of their ideas,” says Professor in het Panhuis.

He says researching, designing and printing the fins was the easy part. The hardest part was finding a consistent ocean wave to test out the performance characteristics of each printed fin.

UOW Australian National Fabrication Facility member Grant Barnsley designing 3D printed fins.

The team of multidisciplinary researchers chose a left hand breaking wave in off Sumatra, the Macaronis.

To test out his carbon composite surf fin prototypes, he hand picked some of his Jones’ Beach surfing mates.

“I wanted surfers who could put their feelings into words and tell me the differences they were noticing between the fins,” he says.

Brett Connellan, Chad Uphill and Geoff Latimer from Kiama Downs, and Nick Clifford from Kiama travelled to Sumatra with the researchers to do blind testings of the fins. The other team members (Prof Julie Steele, Paul Jones, Dylan Perese and James Forsyth) were also from the Illawarra.

The surfers all strongly preferred a fin with a ‘crinkle cut’ set of grooves on one side.

Professor in het Panhuis stresses that the object of the exercise was to demonstrate the potential of  rapid prototyping using 3D printing.

“We have shown that we can combine science and surfing, and that we can use 3D printing to produce unique fin prototypes that surfers love to ride.”

He believes the project has the potential to strengthen Australia’s competitive edge in certain niche manufacturing industries.


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