How the MTC helped Paralympian Emma Wiggs to gold in Tokyo

At this years Digital Manufacturing Week, Nick Hussey, CEO of The Manufacturer, spoke with Paralympic Champion Emma Wiggs MBE about her and the GB Canoeing team’s partnership with The Manufacturing Technology Centre. (MTC)

Emma and the team came to the MTC to ask if they could help design and manufacture a stronger, lighter, personalised paddle ready for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. The challenge was accepted, and Emma attributes a large part of her Tokyo success to the MTC’s smartly manufactured paddle.

Emma has been a Paralympic canoeist since 2013. In that time, she’s managed nine World Championship titles, two Paralympic gold medals and one Paralympic silver medal – “not too shabby in a boat” as she puts it.

Watch this interview in full, as Emma and Senior Research Engineer at MTC, Miguel Fernandez-Vicente, explain how this bespoke paddle design gave the British team the edge.

Interview highlights

Nick Hussey: Where did the partnership with MTC start?

Emma Wiggs: I was asked to do some work with apprentices, from a motivational and inspirational type of standpoint. It started from a discussion with one of their guys, Richard Watkins. From there developed this interest in whether we could do something to make a change and an impact on how we paddle and perform on the water.

NH: What was the paddle design like before and what has MTC done to improve it?

Miguel Fernandez: Well to be honest it was very similar to what it is now, but from Emma we understood the specific challenges that she was facing. For example, we modified the handling and we changed the construction of the paddle itself to be made entirely from carbon fibre, with the exception of the handle.

The handle at the top of the paddle is 3D printed using high performance polymers and has been customised to fit the shape of Emma’s hand.

With additive manufacturing you have freedom to modify this in any way. An example is the lattice design on the handle making it more lightweight.

NH: What difference did the paddle make for you Emma?

EW: I’d love to say that this gold medal was all down to me, but it absolutely wasn’t. I had no idea the capabilities of what we could achieve by collaborating with experts. I thinking, ‘just give me a paddle of a different colour, and the rest of the world will be worried!’

No one has designed a paddle that is different before, this is an absolute first. I’ve asked my coach before, as a five-foot two female why have I used the same handle that he uses – he’s six-foot six! I was just told that’s the way it’s always been.

The first time I used the new paddle it felt amazing. It actually allowed us to get a higher stroke rate. We were operating within about a 103 stroke rate, the new paddle has taken us to 115-118 which is a huge difference when you when you race over 200 metres.

About the Manufacturing Technology Centre

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) was established as part of the UK government’s national manufacturing strategy with the aim of bridging the gap between academic discoveries and real-time industry innovation. Located at the MTC, the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM) accelerates the uptake of additive manufacturing (AM) by developing the technology and systems required to address the key challenges within the AM value chain. The MTC is also the home to the European Space Agency (ESA) AM Benchmarking Centre (AMBC) and is the only non-US founding partner in the ASTM AM Centre of Excellence for standardisation.


Take a look back at the opening day of the SME Growth Summit 2021, in partnership with the MTC’s Digitalising Manufacturing Conference at Digital Manufacturing Week