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Volume 24 No. 116
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NBA Kings Among First Pro Teams To Begin Experimenting With 3D Printing Technology

The NBA Kings have begun experimenting with 3D printers, making them what is belived to be the first team in the league to use the high-tech, potentially revolutionary process. The organization has teamed with Sacramento-based entrepreneurial group Hacker Lab to develop ways to deploy the technology as soon as this season. Industrial-grade 3D printers -- the ones sports teams would use -- cost more than $100,000, while personal ones cost more than $1,300, so the Kings for now will borrow Hacker Lab’s four 3D printers instead of buying their own. The team did not share specifics, but Senior VP/Strategy, Innovation & Technology Ryan Montoya in an e-mail wrote team execs “hope to implement 3D printing usage throughout our organization.” This development comes after the team last season held a tech event featuring 3D-printer demonstrations. The adoption of 3D printing continues the Kings’ tech-forward push since being bought last year by Vivek Ranadivé. 3D printing, which was named in ’13 as one of Goldman Sachs’ eight “creative destructors” that could reshape the global economy, involves making complex objects by successively layering materials on top of one another. A computer file with the schematics of a given object is loaded onto software, which dishes out instructions to a printer -- in this case a pronged robotic arm. After receiving the instructions, the arm extrudes a material, such as plastic, in layers until the object is built. Sportswear companies like Nike and adidas are already experimenting with the technology, as are many motorsports teams.

PACIFIC SUNRISE: While 3D printing has been slower in coming to stick-and-ball leagues, execs from the Kings and Warriors, who themselves are considering testing 3D printers this season, said that they envision a time in the not-too-distant future when the machines will be used on both the athletic and business sides of operations. Similar to the Kings, the Warriors also held a 3D printer-related event last season, with the team and F Harrison Barnes giving one away to a local high school. The club currently has made no firm commitment to testing the technology, but VP/Digital & Marketing Kenny Lauer said that ownership is supportive of the idea and utilizing the printers at some point in the near future is likely. He added that the team would likely look to use anywhere from one to five printers.
 
FAST AND FURIOUS: For sports teams, perhaps the chief attraction of 3D printing is that it produces items not only with a high degree of accuracy but also in a fraction of the time it used to take to accomplish similar tasks. For example, a batch of bobbleheads could now not only be made to a much more realistic extent but also prepared in days as opposed to weeks or months. Similarly, if a seat at a stadium were to break, a new one could be printed to replace it. With 3D printers, merchandise shops will be able to customize hard goods and apparel (both for fans and players) on the spot. There is even a form of 3D printer that extrudes actual food, so concessionaires may eventually be able to “print” meals that cater to each individual eater’s tastes. The technology’s capacity to reduce businesses’ inventory -- and thus overhead -- is seen as another potential benefit because of how inventory can negatively affect a company’s bottom line. Lauer said, “Things that you never thought were disposable will now be disposable because you can just print them. And you’ll be able to manufacture anything, anywhere and at a negligible cost -- with almost any material.” 

CHANGING THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS: The technology has been around in its earliest form since the ‘80s as a form of prototyping but only started being widely used for more functional purposes since the turn of the millennium. Asked to sum up the impact 3D printing could have on the sports business, Lauer said, “I always like to take other industries and kind of cross pollinate. And with 3D printing, I looked at sports and I thought, ‘Now, this is interesting because this is not only going to change sports -- it’s going to change the business of sports.'"

This is the first part of a two-part series on the future of 3D printing. See tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for an inside look at one company utilizing the emerging technology to create a new market in the collectibles space.