Jan 26, 2022 - News

How a Twin Cities company is helping USA's luge team go for the gold

emily sweeney zips down a luge track
Team USA's Emily Sweeney, pictured here competing in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, is competing in Bejing next month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

A Twin Cities company has been helping Team USA in its quest to finally win a gold medal in the luge at the Olympic Games next month.

Driving the news: Stratasys, a 3D printing company based in Eden Prairie, made the sled molds used by Team USA.

Why it matters: The partnership, which began ahead of the 2018 games, allows the team to make and test adjustments more quickly.

  • In a sport timed to the fraction of a second, small tweaks to the sled design can mean the difference between winning and losing.

What they're saying: "Our coaches and our athletes are constantly thinking about new ways to go faster down the track," Mark Grimmette, director of programming for USA Luge, says in a new video first shared with Axios. "What 3D printing does is help us get those concepts to ice a lot faster."

How it works: Team USA sends designs to Stratasys, which prints most of the molds here in the Twin Cities using a pliable material called thermoplastic.

  • For some parts, including a key component of the doubles luge, the mold is wrapped in carbon fiber and the 3D-printed material is later washed away.

The team tries the sleds, which are tailored to athletes' bodies, then adjusts the design again. The process repeats.

  • "[It's] an iterative process as they try to get a competitive advantage," Pat Carey, who oversees the partnership as Stratasys' senior vice president of strategic growth, told Axios.

The results: Turnaround time for crafting new molds shortened from two to three months to two weeks, according to Team USA head coach Robert Fegg.

Of note: Stratasys' 3D printing technology is also applied to parts used for boat and car racing, including Formula One.

  • "They push our technology to the cutting edge and then we learn a lot [and] they learn a lot," Carey said of the partnerships.

The bottom line: The U.S. Olympic luge team has made the podium six times since it started competing in the 1960s, but it's never won that top spot.

  • "The goal," women's singles luger Emily Sweeney said in the video, "is another medal."
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