You No Longer Have to be a Hardware Company to Bring Hardware to Bear
At its core, ActionStreamer is a data transmission company, but hardware is a very important aspect of what we do — without it, we’d have nothing to run our patented software on. While streaming is our core competency, it’s no longer necessary to be a hardware company to bring hardware solutions to market, thanks to the use of digital design and additive manufacturing. We’ve used these techniques and tools to speed up our processes and complete tasks that would’ve taken much longer just a handful of years ago.
Without 3D printing, our ability to bring you closer to the athletes and sports you love wouldn’t be nearly as efficient in terms of time or cost, so we wanted to take a few minutes to shed some light on 3D printing as part of a greater window into how the technology ultimately helps us bring you closer to the athletes and sports you love.
3D printing basics
The industry term for 3D printing is “additive manufacturing” and that term actually helps illustrate the concept. Take a block of wood, for example, and let’s say you’re making a pawn for a chess set. That process is inherently subtractive in that you’re whittling it down, removing material throughout. To achieve the same outcome via 3D printing, similar to how your home printer injects ink onto paper, material is added according to the design specifications of the pawn you’re making.
Our design process begins by determining what kind of equipment we’re designing an enclosure for — a football helmet, a referee hat, an umpire mask, etc. The first step is to get a three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) model for the piece of equipment in order to establish the surface(s). If we can’t get a CAD model from the manufacturer, we reverse engineer the equipment with the help of reality capture tools.
One tool we use is a cloud-based service called Autodesk ReCap, which is a photogrammetry tool that turns a multitude of photos of a physical object into a 3D model. We take the output from ReCap and load it into another cloud-based solution from Autodesk, Fusion 360, to visualize the model, clean it up, make changes, etc.
Our design department then uses a software product from Dassault called SolidWorks to incorporate our electronics enclosures into or onto the equipment model, be it on the inside or outside. The enclosure size and location varies based on a variety of factors including weight distribution, antenna location, safety considerations, and available space throughout the equipment. We generally share renderings of the enclosures with clients during the design process to get their ongoing feedback.
Once we have a design that the client is pleased with and we’re ready to bring it to life, we turn to a software program called Simplify 3D to print the enclosures and perform a test fit, via which we confirm they fit the real-life piece of equipment as the 3D model indicated they would. We generally infill the printed enclosures so they weigh the same as they would if our electronics were inside. If the test print checks out, we typically share this initial physical (non-working) prototype with the client.
If the client continues to feel good about the design at this juncture, our designers and engineers go back into their software programs to crack open the enclosures and design the electronics layout within them. Our standard custom electronics package is optimized for ease of integration, giving us flexibility regarding how they’re laid out and streamlining this phase of the process.
Assembling & finalizing
Once the final enclosures are printed, outfitted with our electronics, and mounted to the equipment, we have a working prototype to send to the client. If the prototype requires any tweaks, we can quickly iterate (in days, not months!). Making changes in this workflow is very low cost and able to be done quickly, both major value drivers for ActionStreamer. And just like that, we have the means to deliver crisp, high-quality multi-POV digital streams to you, the viewer.
Onward n’ upward
Legacy manufacturing processes certainly have their place, producing a large number of parts at scale, but for highly-customized solutions like ours, those processes are just too expensive and slow. So what’s the next phase on the manufacturing side of our business? Much like we’ve taken advantage of all 3D printing has to offer, before long we’ll take that a step further and begin to leverage rapid molding technologies, which would allow us to expand our output from dozens to hundreds of enclosures for future rollouts.