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The UK has seen a fabulous summer so far: soaring temperatures, England in the first semi-final of the World Cup since 1990, and of course Wimbledon. With Novak Djokovic walking away with his fourth Wimbledon title using a HEAD Sport racquet, NetComposites’ Communications Manager, Siobhan Longhurst, caught up with Stefan Mohr of HEAD Sport to discuss the advantages of using composites in the manufacture of racquet sport equipment.
Composites have obviously been hugely influential in the evolution of racquets for tennis and other sports. How close are we to producing the perfect tennis racquet?
“Racquet sport composite engineering has raised modern tennis to an extreme height. Are we close to a perfect racquet? I’d turn the question around. Does a perfect racquet exist? First of all, a big part of the tennis racquet performance is how well it fulfils the player’s subjective perception and demands. Since we all come in a wide variety of mass, size, flexibility and more complex features like sensibility and coordination potential, it’s quite obvious that different players have different expectations. So, does the perfect racquet for an individual human being exist? Personally I’d say no, because there are racquet properties that are not combinable; for example the classic trade-off between power and control. One day I might prefer one feature, another day the other.”
To what extent do the various rules and regulations of racquet sports constrain your design?
“In everyday business not so much. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) rules still allow room for design for different tennis racquets. Take for example the length. The ITF allows 317 mm (12.5”) to 737 mm (29”). An overwhelmingly huge majority of racquets on the market are built around 685 ± 5 mm. This developed in a complex coevolution system; highly nonlinear, non deterministic. Players optimised their game, technique and tactics for given courts, surfaces, balls and racquets, and the results are obvious – a market concentration around a not too wide specification region. Will this change in future? Sure, only the extent of the change is open for discussion. HEAD Sport, as a racquet manufacturer, do our best to find ‘new territories of playability’.”
In your presentation you’ll be discussing the importance of consumer-centred design. Can you provide some examples of this?
“We are positioned to give every tennis athlete or customer their best tennis racquet. A professional player like Andy Murray demands a racquet with very personal properties. Today, in a world where composite tennis racquets have been around for decades with similar carbon and glass fibre based constructions, the differentiation between the good and the best has not only a technological but also a perception dimension, which is becoming even more important. How does the racquet feel? Such subjective properties can only be explored with a consumer-centred approach. We bring the consumers into our design process by making prototypes and test them on court. The decision making process is gravitating towards on-court properties and therefore is much more consumer-centred.”
What new material technologies are currently exciting you in terms of the opportunities they present for evolving racquet design?
“At HEAD we keep a close eye on our home territory – the developments of fibre reinforced plastics. This manifests in different fibre developments, like special high modulus carbon fibres, or resin additives like graphene. Many exciting things are happening right now. Additive manufacturing with all its different technologies is extremely thrilling. With one of our latest launches – MxG racquets – we introduced a thixomoulding yoke. There, we showed how an injection moulding-like process with magnesium can be beneficially applied in a carbon-metal hybrid, resulting in a very nice dampened playing feel, allowing new carbon constructions.”
Finally, what are you hoping to get out of Composites in Sport 2018?
“Composites in Sports at Loughborough University is a perfect place to meet academic influencers and exciting composite companies from material suppliers to hard goods makers. I’m looking forward to the presentations and the discussions around the event.”
Taking place on 3-4 October 2018 in Loughborough, UK, Composites in Sport – Enabling Sports Technology for The Future will explore new composite material developments in sports-related applications including equipment, safety wear, apparel, prosthetics and infrastructure. It is aimed at material developers/suppliers, manufacturers, researchers, regulatory bodies and athletes of all abilities. The early bird rate of £395 is valid until 24 August 2018.
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