3D Printed Basketball: How it’s made

On February 18th, Kenyon Martin Jr from the Houston Rockets unveiled Wilson’s airless basketball prototype. This was during the first round of the 2023 Dunk Contest. This basketball looked exactly like a regular basketball apart from the many holes visible throughout its structure.

In this article we will talk about this prototype basketball:

  • Why was it created?
  • How was it made?

Why was it created?

This basketball would give you the performance of the basketball we are familiar with without having to deal with the inconveniences of both pumping and risking punctures.

Dr Nadine Lippa, R&D Manager of Wilson’s basketball division, was tasked with reinventing the basketball.

“A project like this begins, again, we go back to we’re always trying to look at what’s new cutting-edge technologies”, says Bob Thurman, the Vice President of Innovation at Wilson.

How was it made?

The manufacturing process can be divided into 5 stages:

Step 1: Design

Additive manufacturing engineers and the industrial design team came together to create designs that caused the product to resemble, feel like and perform like a basketball.

These designs were created to be readable by the scanner and 3D printer present at EOS North America.

Step 2: 3D Printing

“There is a powder bed that’s swept across and then a laser almost etches-sketches a pattern in two dimensions, and as this process iterates over and over, you end up with a 3-dimensional ball”, Dr Nadine Lippa says.

The ball is then removed from the powder similarly to the way your dog would remove a hidden bone from the ground.

Step 3: Sealing

The powder is then sealed using a smoothing technique.

Step 4: Dye

The dye penetrates and reacts with the polymeric surface of the ball.

Step 5: Testing

The final stage is testing, which is where they send the ball to their NBA test facility in Ohio to be put to the limits, concerning the structure of the ball.

 Final thoughts

This basketball is still very much a prototype. It serves as a starting point for the possibilities of what a basketball could become.

Given that this is the starting point, future interpretations of the basketball would be nothing short of interesting.

Wilson launches 3D printed airless basketball
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