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Stafford Murray

3-D printed attachment transforms athletes’ Tokyo preparation

A 3-D printed titanium attachment developed by High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Goldmine Innovation team may help make a difference for Para athletes Holly Robinson and Anna Grimaldi as they strive for success in Tokyo.

Both have high hopes in their respective Para athletics events – Holly competes in javelin and Anna in long jump.

The idea for the bespoke attachments was born when HPSNZ’s Dr Stafford Murray, who was the organisation’s Head of Innovation at the time, heard Holly speaking at a High Performance Summit following the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and spotted the opportunity to help.

“The HPSNZ Innovation Team works with athletes and coaches providing them with technological solutions to make them go faster, be stronger, etc. We’ve got a great internal team and I’d say we are probably one of the best in the world.”

The team listened to what the athletes needed from a prosthetic attachment. While Holly and Anna compete in different events, each of them only has one hand, so had a similar requirement for a piece of equipment to help their training.

“They each needed a specialist piece of equipment that allowed them to train safely, was strong and enabled them to lift greater weight and become stronger.”

At that stage, the athletes were improvising with off the shelf or catalogue prosthetics that weren’t designed for elite sport.

At one point one of the prosthetics that Holly was using broke, highlighting the need for a stronger and safer solution.

Stafford says the HPSNZ Innovation Team focused on a bespoke solution that would be designed to be fit-for-purpose as well as customised for each of the athletes.

“3-D printing was a logical choice for this. We approached a local company (Zenith Technica) that was excited about the project and appreciated the potential of the athletes who were going to be using it.”

The company 3-D printed the new attachment, designed by HPSNZ engineers, which is complex with multiple moving parts, for Holly and Anna to use in the gym. It was a piece of equipment that would enable them to train like a person with two hands.

“The 3-D printed titanium attachment was designed and built to mimic the movement of the wrist and hand and allow them more flexibility. The adjustable attachment goes on the end of a prosthetic and can attach to barbells, dumb bells, kettle bells. It enables them to do so much more in the gym. It not only helps them to lift more weight but also to do so with better technique which is important.”

“It was about providing them with something different that you can’t buy off the shelf that helps them to be the best they can be.”

Stafford says the attachment has helped Holly lift more in the gym and throw very well in the lead up to Tokyo. Anna has also seen progress in the gym which has translated into bigger jumps out on the track since she has been using the attachment.

For Holly and Anna, having the attachments customised for their individual needs has allowed them to be able to lift more evenly than previously, with more confidence.

Stafford says he and the Innovation Team are very proud to be part of it.

“We’re proud to be part of such a wonderful project and help these two athletes with their training, which in turn we hope will provide them with a performance advantage.”