We here at SABEL believe the adage that if you have only a hammer the only problems you can solve are with nails holds very true to sports engineering. In sport we face so many different engineering problems, therefore, we see working in multidisciplinary teams as vital for success. For us, it’s pretty simple – the more diverse the team the more tools that we can place in the toolbox. Within our own SABEL group, we have experts across many different domains with engineers from electronics, mechanical, biomedical, electromagnetics, simulation and software backgrounds to other disciplines including industrial designers, musculoskeletal researchers, sports management experts, computer programmers and biomechanists.
2am Thursday morning (a definite downside on researching down under) I tuned into a ANSYS hosted webinar title The Balls in Your Court. The session featured 2 speakers, Tom Allen from Manchester Metropolitan University and John Hart from Sheffield Hallam University who presented their experience with engineering simulation in sports.
So what is engineering simulation? It is the science predicting elemental behaviours by solving the governing mathematical questions using numerical techniques solved with computers. These simulations can be a very cost-effective and precise way of inspecting finite elements and allows users to model interactions and behaviours in different contexts. Simulation is already used in sports in a multitude of ways and can reveal extremely interesting insights of performance leading to the development of the athlete or the advancement of equipment mechanics.
Tom Allen talked about his work, primarily with finite element analysis into cricket and tennis. It was really interesting to see the methodical process he takes to experimentally test each facet of the model, ensuring he gathers all the pieces of the puzzle and then converts these findings to create a really accurate simulation model. The findings of the models can then be used to optimise equipment design, for example, creating a tennis racket design to maximise spin.
Dr John Hart from the Centre for Sports engineering research is most certainly a world leader in computational fluid dynamics and has won awards for his innovation and use of CFD designs. His sporting models not only have huge scientific value to them but also have a real artistic quality and have been showcased in the Royal Institution exhibits (Here’s a link to some of his work). John spoke about his CFD processes from detailed laser scanning to computational modelling. Although working across a wide range of sports, John’s insights particularly focused on his work with modelling Badminton shuttlecocks in the quest to create a synthetic shuttlecock that behaves the same outdoors as a competition feather shuttlecock does indoors.
It is easy to see from what these two researchers have achieved how valuable engineering simulation is in the larger landscape of sports performance. If you want to know more about sports simulation here is a great white paper titled Dramatic Changes in Sports: The Contribution of Engineering Simulation. Also, ANSYS is currently running a few more Webcast series about simulation in sport and sports engineering – if you are interested just follow the link here.