I’m a recent convert to surfing sports due to my niece Zoey competing nationally and internationally in wakesurfing. The sport requires tremendous amounts of skill, but is also reliant on great equipment to maximize performance. We’ve recently run across a great application of 3D printing by Roy Stuart of Roy Stuart Wooden Surfboards where he 3D prints surfboard fins for a product called Warp Drive. There have been rumors of complete 3D printed surf boards, but those have largely been vaporware at this point where Roy’s product is real and for sale today! Roy’s product isn’t some sort of 3D printing novelty, but a superior way to make a superior fin.
We had a chance to to get an interview with Roy Stuart to hear more about this great product:
Where did the idea to use 3D printing come from?
We’ve been aware of the possible 3d printing applications for our surfboard fins since reading an article about it in “new Scientist” during the late 1990’s. At the time we were making innovative new surfboard equipment by hand in wood, while living off the grid in buses without electricity or running water. 3d printing seemed like an impossible dream while hand foiling wood, kevlar, and graphite hydrofoil fins under a canvas awning (each fin would take 3 weeks to make) but all comes, as they say, to those who wait.
Why 3D printing? What advantages does it provide over other manufacturing techniques?
The alternatives are hand shaping, CAD routing and injection moulding. Hand shaping is slow, and although it can produce excellent results, is limited in terms of the definition of foil sections. Also many features which we have been wanting to introduce can’t be done by hand either because they are too small or for a host of other reasons including the manufacturing of the structure. For example flow enhancing microgrooves are almost impossible to create by hand, as are hollow honeycombed core structures, micro annular wing leading edge vortex generators, or leading edge tubercules at the correct scale for small fins. 3D printing has no such limitations.CAD routing has similar limitations in accuracy and can’t make some of the complex shapes which we require. It’s also wasteful of materials. Injection moulding is expensive to set up, and requires large production runs to be economical. Moulding doesn’t allow size to be scaled or changes in shape of any type without new moulds being made. With 3D printing every fin can be a one off custom design. Currently warp Drive fins exist in over 1200 variants, and there are many more in the pipeline. Prior to 3d printing I was aware that it would be impossible to live long enough to make all the designs which we have conceived. 3d printing has in many ways therefore, granted life extension and a sense of being able to bring the future into the present.Are there performance differences between warp drive and a standard fin or does this just represent a faster/cheaper/easier construction? The shape of Warp Drive fins is not determined by the printing process, it is driven solely by performance considerations. 3d printing allows these to be pursued without limitation. Standard fin design is determined by habit, hidebound tradition and construction constraints, these issues are papered over via the employment by the surfing industry of highly athletic surfers and through the monopolized marketing grip which the cartel has over the surfing consciousness. So the short answer is ‘yes’, Warp Drive fins do have performance differences and advantages over the mass market designs, these are permitted by the 3d printing revolution but not determined by it.
Regarding the ease and cost of 3d printing, it’s something of a myth that it is easier and cheaper. Certainly 3d printed fins are more expensive than moulded or even the majority of hand shaped products, most of which are cursorily milled out with a hand held angle grinder in less than 25 minutes, or pumped out of a mould by the thousand and foisted upon the surfing population via scientific psychological marketing techniques which manufacture individual desire en masse.
When we entered the 3d printing game we pondered whether or not to do the printing ourselves using one of the many consumer printers available. I’m very glad that we chose not to do this, as the result would certainly have been failure and disappointment. Warp Drive fins 3d printed surfboard fins have been a success because we are partnered with a highly accomplished engineer in Andrew Palmer of Palmer Design. Andrew has invested countless hours of computer design work, physical tweaking of his printers, and thorough strength testing of prototypes in order to make structurally sound and correctly shaped polycarbonate fins, for which work we thank him very much.
During the next few weeks Warp Drive’s first titanium laser sintered hollow core fins will be available. These are by far the most expensive to produce of any fins in the world. Laser sintering gives even more design freedom than extruded polycarbonate, it has a much higher strength to weight ratio and delivers exceptionally fine detail.
What has been the response from riders and where do you go from here?
Warp Drive fins and Roy Stuart surfboards cater to free thinking surfers, the ‘lead fish’ of the surfing world. Such people are a very small percentage of the surfing population. We have a small but dedicated following, and the response from them has been very ethusiastic. It has never been our intention to gain mass market appeal.
Our next projects include half pipe ‘annular wing’ tunnel fins in both polycarboante and titanium. We have been using tunnel finned setups for the past 15 years with great success and are looking forward to enjoyment of the ‘next generation tunnel fin features which the printing gives us. One exciting new fin configuration which we’ll be exploring is a carbon fibre/titanium flex fin with trailing edge tunnel which was designed, prototyped and partially tested in 2004 but shelved due to the lack of a suitable construction method. The goal has always been to deliver a high performance ride of outstanding ease and comfort: to leave all competitors literally in our highly efficient wake while appearing to observers to be applying little effort. We’ve been achieving this for the past 20 years much to the dismay of mass market led punters, with the innovations due to 3d printing the gap between ‘us and them’ is widening at a delightfully satisfying pace.
An interesting development which has been the direct result of our internet searches for ‘3d printing’ has been the discovery of so called ‘3d fibreglass’. It isn’t related to 3d printing in any way but is a fascinating new product which revolutionises and streamlines composite surfboard construction. A great introduction to the new material can be seen at parabeam.nl. Roy Stuart surfboards are launching a new line in affordable and incredibly strong EPS foam/3d glass mid length boards later this year. They’ll be mounting Warp Drive polycarbonate fins, and will based on my first and long time surfboard favourite the 70’s singlefin.
We appreciate Roy’s comments so much! It’s great to see more and more applications of 3D printing as a finished good and not just prototypes. If you want to purchase a Warp Drive fin please head over to Roy’s site.