Instead of modifying a keg shoe or forging a shoe from bar stock, Australian scientists are asking whether it wouldn’t be easier to simply print out and manufacture a perfectly fitted horseshoe.

In fact, there’s a research project underway on this method of building horseshoes by scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia. In looking at new uses for titanium, the group’s staff was challenged to come up with a horseshoe that weighs less than existing shoes for racehorses, where any slight decrease in weight may lead to an increase in speed.

CSIRO’s titanium expert, John Barnes, says 3D printing a race horseshoe from titanium is a first for scientists. It is an example of the wide range of applications the technology can be used for, according to the editors at 3D Printing News.

Scans Lead To Shoes

In this experiment, a horse’s hooves were scanned and then using 3-D modeling software, a set of four shoes were produced in purple titanium. 

Australian Thoroughbred trainer John Moloney is excited at the potential for shaving off a few ounces and thus seconds from a horse’s race.

“Any extra weight in the horseshoe will slow the horse down,” he says. “These titanium shoes could take up to half of the weight off a traditional aluminum shoe, which means a horse could travel at new speeds.”

Aluminum Is Lighter

Ed Kinney says it’s time to put an end to the belief that titanium is lighter than aluminum. With a cubic inch of aluminum alloy 6061, the weight is 0.100 pounds per cubic inch in density. This compares with a cubic inch of Ti-3AL-4V titanium that has a density of 0.163 pounds per cubic inch.

The owner of Thoro’Bred  in Anaheim, Calif., concedes that titanium is almost twice as strong as aluminum.

In this Australian experiment, the hooves are scanned and then using a
3-D software-modeling program, these shoes were manufactured in purple titanium.

“Having said that, you could use a thin strip of titanium for a horseshoe and it could be lighter than aluminum or then again maybe only equal in weight,” he says. “You would end up with the titanium horseshoe outwearing the aluminum and wearing equal to that of steel.”

Years ago, Kinney and the late Texas farrier Burney Chapman built a duplicate training plate out of a titanium alloy (not a powdered or bonded metal composition) and compared it to one of the Thoro’Bred steel training plates. After being worn by horses for several weeks, the wear was about the same for both materials.

 Moloney says forging horseshoes is just one of many ways that 3D titanium printing can be used.

“At CSIRO, we are helping companies create new applications like biomedical implants and even things like automotive and aerospace parts,” he says. “The possibilities really are endless with this technology.”

The precision scanning process with each hoof takes just a few minutes. Using 3-D modeling software, shoes can be produced with the essential measurements of each hoof and be manufactured the same day.

Less Weight, Faster Horses

Dave Erb says the concept of placing less weight on the hoof leading to greater speed was the basis for founding The Victory Racing Plate Company in 1929. At that time, trainers held the opinion that “an ounce on the foot equals one pound on the back.”

Erb says Victory was the first company to produce a forged aluminum racing plate with steel inserts in critical locations.

“The concept of the aluminum racing plate was born to satisfy the need for lighter footwear for the racehorse,” says the manager of the Baltimore, Md., company. “Since steel was the material of the day, attention was focused on lighter weight aluminum.”

Erb says the use of titanium as a raw material for a horseshoe or, more specifically a racing plate, dates back many decades.

“Yet 3D printing presents a new frontier in the ability to manufacture racing plates already shaped specifically to each of the horse’s four hooves,” he explains. “ This is an intriguing concept, especially when coupled with the use of titanium. The possibilities could be endless.

“While it may be possible to create titanium-racing plates lighter than any other metal because of the material’s tensile strength, the question is cost. Generally speaking, titanium can be five times the cost of aluminum.”

Erb says 3D printing for manufacturing horseshoes is still in the development stages, although progressing quickly. Yet it is much more costly than traditional methods of producing aluminum racing plates.

“In today’s world, cost remains the determining factor,” he says. “For this reason, aluminum racing plates as we know then will be around for some time to come.”

Kinney believes the aluminum racing plate or competition shoe for that matter, will remain the best choice for racing and performance horses for many years to come.

Don’t Sell Your Anvils

Though the Australian scientists maintain this development is particularly exciting with horse racing, farriers still need to keep their anvils.

The scientists say an Australian farrier can forge and fit a full set of horseshoes in 30 minutes at a cost of about $100.

By comparison, the 3D printing process can take a day to scan, a day to print and cost up to $500 for building four shoes for a horse.