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How 3D Printing Can Help Athletes Heal From Injuries

The NFL awarded 3D printing company Protect3d with the top prize of $50,000 at the league’s 1st and Future pitch competition two days before Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Protect3d won first place out of four startups that made presentations in the Innovations to Advance Athlete Health and Safety category.

Based out of Durham, N.C., Protect3d was founded by former Duke football players and engineers Kevin Gehsmann, Clark Bulleit and Tim Skapek. The company’s app allows trainers to scan an athlete’s body in 30 seconds using an iPhone or iPad. Protect3d then creates a prototype of the scan, which is used to 3D-print custom medical devices to fit whichever body part an athlete needs protected.

Products are delivered within two to three days after a scan is made. The company was founded in 2018 when Gehsmann, Bulleit and Skapek were playing for Duke while their teammate, quarterback Daniel Jones (who now plays for the New York Giants), sustained a collarbone fracture. The trio printed a device for Jones to wear over his collarbone that allowed him to return to the field in three weeks, which was noted as being far less bulky and allowed for more mobility than previous alternative padding.

“3D printing has definitely been around for awhile, but what’s really been inspiring to us is the market is just exploding right now. There are so many companies that are innovating and driving costs down. We’re right on the cusp of this wave of being able to bring mass customization into a totally new industry,” Skapek told SportTechie after Protect3d received its grand prize.

Protect3d has already made 100 3D-printed customized devices that have been worn in games, including football, soccer and basketball. The company has partnered with six colleges, including a pilot program with the N.C. State football team that saw 61 devices developed for player use.