Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl 2016 Saved By 3D Printing: How Thomas Davis, The ‘Bionic Man,’ Just Stepped Up His Game

Thomas Davis is one of the stars of the Carolina Panthers defense, and the team’s Super Bowl 2016 chances against the Denver Broncos would be in trouble if he were out of commission for the big game. That’s why the Panthers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Whiteclouds, a 3D printing company who used their technology to ready Thomas’s broken arm for the Super Bowl, a job a metal plate and 12 screws in Davis’s arm could not handle.

Almost as soon as the Carolina Panthers secured their spot in Super Bowl 2016 by crushing the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, Thomas Davis let reporters know that his arm was broken. The Panthers star had collided with an Arizona tight end who has smashed his knee into Davis’s forearm, writes WIRED.

“Yeah, it hurt. That’s all I can tell you,” he said to reporters after the Carolina Panthers win.

The Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis will recieve a 3D printed brace for his broken arm in Superbowl 50

After the injury, the Panthers immediately began considering fixes that would allow Davis to partake in the Super Bowl. Both the team and Davis himself were determined to save Thomas’s arm.

“If there’s any way, any chance, any opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, I’m going to do it,” said Davis.

The Panthers medical team’s initial solution was to install a metal plate into Davis’s arm and keep it in place by drilling 12 screws into his bone. The fix would hurt a lot — it sounds like something Jigsaw might do to one of his victims as part of a trap in a Saw installment — but it just might hold together the bone for Carolina’s Super Bowl 2016 campaign. Thomas went ahead with the surgery.

During the surgery’s review, however, Carolina’s doctors observed that it had not gone as well as they would have liked.

“Since the bone’s not completely healed, it’s a risk of breaking the hardware,” wrote Ned Amendola, one of the overseeing doctors, in a report.

He said that the plate solution would probably allow Davis to play for Carolina in the Super Bowl, but it was risky and would leave Davis’s arm much more vulnerable to longer-term injury.

Thomas and the Panthers weighed the reward versus the risk and decided it wasn’t worth it. They still needed Davis in the Super Bowl, though, and so they looked at other options for prepping Davis’s arm very quickly — they had less that two weeks before the Super Bowl.

The Panthers soon found Whiteclouds, a 3D printing company based out of Utah.

Whiteclouds had never before dealt with printing medical devices, according to Lifehacker. That fact made going with Whiteclouds to deal with the urgent job an interesting choice on Carolina’s part, as creating medical technology is not new to the 3D printing world and other companies have more experience in the field; medical products ranging from casts to synthetic sternums and ribs have been printed before.

Whiteclouds is the biggest 3D printing company in the world, though, and they have worked with huge companies such as Dreamworks, Marvel, and NASA, so the 53 experts who work there were confident they were up to the task. The Carolina Panthers management was confident in Whiteclouds, too, and they commissioned the company to print a brace for Davis to wear in the Super Bowl.

To gain medical know-how, though, Whiteclouds chose to work with 3D Elite, a firm based in Charlotte that makes casts and braces for sports players.

A 3D Elite employee commented on the Panthers’ high-tech Super Bowl-saving endeavor in a press release, says CNET.

“Thomas Davis is already the ‘bionic man’ in our book. This personalized 3D brace lined with Poron XRD makes him a bit more indestructible.”

“Poron XRD is a soft, flexible material designed to absorb shocks and protect from impacts,” the article continues.

The Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis will recieve a 3D printed brace for his broken arm in Superbowl 50

CNET also writes that the Carolina brace’s design took eight hours and the actual printing took 30 hours. It was, of course, a top-priority job, because the Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl chances relied on it being done quickly. Because of that fact, there was no time for testing or margin for error. The Carolina Panthers had to go with Whiteclouds’ first attempt.

After the cutting-edge cast was finished and flown out to Davis at the Panthers’ San Jose State University practice sessions, writes CBS, he began testing it out — and he took a vigorous “trial by fire” approach.

“I took every opportunity to hit it on something,” the Carolina star player said at the Super Bowl 50 Media Night at the SAP Center.

Davis also tried four other braces during the past week, says Engadget, but he and the Panthers agreed that the Whiteclouds solution worked the best.

The Carolina Panthers feel great about the 3D printing-rendered brace, and the NFL Network reported on Friday that the Carolina Panthers will start Thomas Davis in the Super Bowl.

[Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]