A lot of sports fans from the US have really been missing football during the pandemic, my husband included, and they all breathed a sigh of relief as the National Football League (NFL) began once again to broadcast Monday night games, and everyone could get back to worrying about their fantasy leagues. Now, I’m not much of a football fan myself, but even I think this news is pretty interesting: on September 21, 2020, the Las Vegas Raiders took on the New Orleans Saints , beating the Saints by ten points in their new Allegiant Stadium, which features what some are calling the world’s tallest 3D printed structure: the 93-foot Al Davis Memorial Torch .
Before we get to the 3D printing portion of our story, here’s a little background. The Raiders started as a team based out of Oakland, California, and then moved to Los Angeles in 1982. The team went back to Oakland in 1995, and finally moved to their current home of Las Vegas, Nevada in January of 2020. So, this is the first season the team has played in its new residence. Al Davis, who passed away in 2011, was the team’s long-time franchise owner, and, clinching him a coveted spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame , was the only person ever to have been an NFL player before moving on to serve as personnel assistant, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, league commissioner, and the principal owner and CEO of an NFL team.
In 2019, the Overland Park, Kansas branch of design firm Dimensional Innovations purchased the state’s largest 3D printer, a Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) system from Thermwood Corporation . The printer, with a build capacity of 10 x 20 x 5 feet and and a five-axis router, was to be used for a secret project , which we now know was the giant torch commemorating Davis for the new Raiders stadium. The project was, according to Startland News , “three years in the making,” and Dimensional Innovations was the first company to use the LSAM to build a finished architectural structure.
The torch was built out of 225 blocks, which were 3D printed out of a carbon fiber-reinforced polycarbonate composite material, and the structure’s reflective surface features nearly 1,150 robotically-painted panels made from more than 35,000 pounds of raw aluminum. All told, the torch weighs in at over 100,000 pounds, so it was a pretty big job to take on.
“We collaborated with Manica Architecture from Kansas City; they designed the look of the torch. We also worked with A. Zahner, and they helped us with the aluminum exterior,” explained Brandon Wood, the Innovation Lab manager for Dimensional Innovations. “Then, Ultratech Aerospace is a company down the road that helped us machine all those aluminum metal parts. There’s a huge Kansas City team here that made that Raiders icon happen.”
An 18-member team from Dimensional Innovations worked with these partners for a year, spending roughly 50,000 hours developing, printing, and installing the nine-story-tall torch, once all of the components had been shipped to Las Vegas.
In addition to the previously mentioned collaborators, Dimensional Innovations also worked with Kansas City-structural engineer Bob D. Campbell & Co., the Astound Group, Purdue University, the Las Vegas Raiders themselves, and Mark Davis—the son of Al Davis.
“It was really cool to work with Mark Davis. He had a lot of great feedback to get the design to where it is today,” Wood said.
So, why a torch? Maybe you football fans know this, but I did not: after Davis had passed away, the team began lighting his Memorial Torch before each game, as his vision was that the “fire that burns the brightest in the Raiders organization is the will to win.” This is now inscribed on the side and base of the 3D printed structure as a major focal point of the torch.
“The enormity of the torch, both physically and ideologically, will carry on the memory of Mr. Davis for years to come. And we’re proud to have played a part in that,” Tucker Trotter, the CEO of Dimensional Innovations, stated in a press release.
So now, back to the beginning…ahead of the recent Raiders vs. Saints game, which was sadly missing fans in the stands due to COVID-19 concerns, the NFL broadcast the unveiling of the 3D printed Al Davis Memorial Torch for the world to see.
Wood said, “It was surreal seeing it on TV. It took a few minutes to realize that we pulled it off. It was pretty incredible.”
Incredible as the massive 3D printed torch is, we’ve heard that “largest or tallest 3D printed such-and-such” headline before…quite recently , in fact. But rarely do people who build for a living lack the drive to keep making their projects bigger and better. So, is the Al Davis Memorial Torch currently the tallest 3D printed structure? The Dimensional Innovations team says it has in fact contacted the Guinness World Records, and the torch’s record is still pending as of this moment; the title should be finalized once the final documentation is received.
“A lot of the large-scale, 3D-printed structures that previously held the record were test cases; people trying stuff out to see if it would work. Ours is a real production object for a client, so we’re really proud of that,” Wood said.
(Images courtesy of Dimensional Innovations)