I have mentioned this before now, but the uses of 3D printing technology is becoming very widespread. From jewellery to gadgets and tools to houses, 3D printers are obviously well capable of printing lots of different things, but sporting goods was never something I envisioned. American golf manufacturer Ping has other ideas. Ping have recently 3D printed a metal golf club, which is capable of being used to play the sport flawlessly with no adverse effects. “The 3D printer does such a good job in welding the metals that you get the micro-structure that you need to produce a stronger product,” says Paul Wood, Ping’s Director of Engineering.

Ping decided to research the matter and the Ping engineers discovered the layer-to-layer welding of a standard metal 3D printer would actually result in excellent structural qualities. Wood was interviewed at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida, by golfalot.com and he revealed a lot about their 3D printed products.

“So I asked what kind of material properties are we going to get, is it at least somewhat close to a cast product and he said, ‘no it is actually better, you actually get a stronger product’ and that really blew my mind,” he said. “The 3D printer does such a good job in welding the metals that you get the micro-structure that you need to produce a stronger product.”

He continued: “You normally think of the weld line as being where something breaks because you are taking two bits of strong metal and you are welding them together and that is the weak point, [but] through material testing it has proved to be stronger than the cast equivalent.”

Interestingly, the new metal 3D printing  production process has also proven to be easier and indeed faster when comparing traditional processes.

Wood went on to explain, “We are really limited by the thickness of the layers and therefore how many layers it takes to make a club and the speed of the laser. Right now it is a little ponderous, in the order of around 24 hours [for one head].

“The current process is more complicated than that because you have to go through making moulds and then go through the casting process. So although casting a product doesn’t take that long the whole process of creating a mould and taking that to casting is a more mass manufacturing method and you are talking about 6 weeks easily.” 

In contrast, 3D printing is also noticeably more simple. “[Casting clubs] means there are a lot of steps in the process. With 3D printing the process is actually very simple. CAD file, printer, finished product. There is a lot of work that goes into that, but the process itself is very straightforward.”

After thorough deliberation, Ping began the project to 3D print a G25 iron. After completion, the new 3D printed iron was extensively tested by contracted players. “A lot of our players couldn’t tell the difference between the 3D printed product and the cast product, that’s how good quality it was,” added Wood.

Ping then worked on a 3D printed putter, which turned out as a perfect product during just the first printing process. The new 3D printed putter only needed to be finished to remove the roughness, and it was ready to use. Ping then put it on display at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show.

Ping manufacturers are now looking at integrating 3D printing into the manufacturing process as a VIP experience option for professional clientele. The new metal 3D printed clubs may cost around $8,000 to $10,000, so the product isn’t cheap. This is largely due to the metal 3D printing process. Wood went on to say, “These metal 3D printers are nearly $1 million, so they are not cheap machines at all right now. This is the chance to be one of the very first to get a product using this new technology.”

If you like golf, then it look like you could be getting the ultimate in custom designed clubs, but at $10,000 per club, it’s a tad beyond my budget (Also, I don’t play golf).

[Image via todaysgolfer]