When most people talk about 3-D printing, they tend to wonder what the future holds. But if you're looking for a tangible example of what the technology can do right now, look no further than Sunday's big game. 

At the 2019 Fast Company Innovation Festival, held November 4-8 in New York City, Dara Treseder, CMO of 3-D manufacturing company Carbon, spoke about an exciting collaboration with sports equipment company Riddell. In February 2019, the companies 
teamed up to release the first 3-D-printed football helmet liner. This innovative production approach, she said, unlocks a whole new level of protection for football players.

Now that the danger of concussions in football is largely known, companies have been eager to produce equipment that makes the sport safer.The Riddell Speedflex Precision Diamond Helmet features a 3-D-printed liner customized for each athlete. First, a digital model of the player's head is built through a scan. Then, more than 1,000 possible impacts are simulated using on-field data. From there, the optimal lattice structure for the player is determined, the liner is printed, and the helmet is assembled.

In addition to protection, the helmet offers greater comfort than conventional versions, since it can be precisely contoured to fit each athlete's head.

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All these improvements are made possible by utilizing a wealth of previously untapped data. "If you're not collecting data, collect data," Treseder advised, explaining that Carbon followed market insights--in this case a need to improve protection for football players--to determine the best use of company resources. "Try to do some research to really understand what the market needs," she advised. "Then, pick a data point to focus on. Try to translate that into better-performing products."

This isn't the first time Carbon has partnered with a company to use technology and data to solve a problem. In January 2019, Carbon collaborated with Adidas to launch a new model of sneakers called Futurecraft 4D. In that case, 3-D printing allowed Adidas to test the performance of the shoes' midsole in the design stage, eliminating the need for prototyping and, in turn, speeding up the production process.

Treseder urged other companies to take advantage of the potential that data can offer, chiding those that don't collect it. "And for those of you sitting on treasure troves of data you've already collected," she said, "do something with it."