Tennis Ball Design Jobs

In tennis, ball design is a complex subject and a full time job for engineers at tennis ball companies. For tournament play, different court surfaces determine the best type of ball to use. Grass courts such as Wimbledon are the fastest, closely followed by hard, green clay and red clay courts. Grass courts are considered fast because the surface creates little friction. Clay courts are slow because the surface creates more friction.

Balls are also classified as fast, medium or slow. An important consideration for ball speed is the height and type of fabric on the outside. Balls with more fuzz have more air resistance, travel more slowly, and in rainy conditions, the cover material fluffs and further slows the game. Serious players use different felt thicknesses in different altitudes to increase or decrease the air resistance. If the felt thickness flattens in the middle of the game from intense volleying or wear, the ball will go faster too.

Professional players can hit serves as fast as 135 mph. When a ball is hit with that much force, an engineer must understand what happens during the impact. How does the ball deform and how does that affect its resulting performance characteristics? After considerable deformation, can the ball be used the next day? Will it offer the same spin ability or, more importantly, will it impact the present match?

To answer some of these questions, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) uses a “Stevens machine” to compress the tennis balls. Each ball is squash-tested, or compressed, for 10 seconds and then checked for deformation. If the ball does not return to a round shape, it is rejected by the USTA.

Engineers also often test tennis ball aerodynamics in a wind tunnel, which blows air over the tennis ball to determine how the forces act on it. For example, if the tunnel blows air over the tennis ball at 135 mph it simulates a ball served at 135 mph. Wind tunnels provide engineers with important aerodynamic data that would be close to impossible to obtain any other way.

According to Penn, a tennis ball begins its life as a mound of powder that forms the core. The type of play the ball is made for determines the ingredients in the core. For example, the extended life ball has titanium mixed into the powder to allow it to last longer. The beginner’s ball has a softer core to allow the ball to stay in play longer and give the player more control.

The powder is shaped into pellets and placed in a mold that makes half of the ball. Two halves are glued together, or fused, and a machine injects one atmosphere of air pressure. Finally, the ball cover, made of nylon, cotton, felt and wool, is bonded to the core. The balls are then packaged and shipped to the stores.

Tennis ball manufacturing companies most often hire mechanical, materials, chemical, aerospace and manufacturing engineers.

To read more, about careers in the sporting goods industry, pick up a copy of High Tech Hot Shots: Careers in Sports Engineering.

Bowling for Engineering Jobs

At first glance, bowling equipment seems like an easy exercise for designers. Engineers make a round ball that weighs 14-16 lbs, build a lane or path that the ball can roll on and knock down 10 pins at the end of the lane. The participants of the sport wear funny shoes and shirts and call themselves bowlers. You’d think at first that the engineering must be in just the pin resetter and ball return devices, right? Well, think again.

The engineering that goes into the sport of bowling is now so technologically advanced that an engineering degree is required to advance the sport. The true art of bowling is to hit a one-inch wide pocket that is 60 feet away. This tiny pocket is just off the center of the front pin and can be very elusive. When the ball hits the target, known also as a strike, the ball ricochets through the pins and knocks every one down. If you have ever watched bowlers in a bowling alley or on TV you’ve probably said to yourself, “I can do that.” Bowling looks easy.

Today, engineers have figured out how to create a ball that can smash into a larger two to four inch pocket to achieve the same results because ball manufacturers have built a hook into the design. The standard pocket width for a ball rolling straight down the lane is only one inch. However, if you can hook the ball at an angle of at least 6 degrees when the ball enters the pocket, the size of the pocket jumps from 1 inch to 2 or 3 inches. Because of this enlarged pocket, the number of perfect games increased from 829 in 1964 to almost 40,000 per year since 2007.Bowling is one of those sports where every throw is unique. Every throw is unique because bowling alleys apply mineral oil on the lanes (most commonly made of pine, cherry wood, or a synthetic laminate) to condition them to take a continual pounding. The amount of oil on the lane, the type of oil, the lane material, the temperature, the humidity and the type of bowling ball makes the outcome of every throw unpredictable. The amount of oil close to the pins is different from the amount of oil closer to the bowler. Like-wise, the amount of oil on the outside of the lane is less than on the inside. No two bowling lanes have the same amount of oil because some alleys use different grades of oils, and some lane oiling machines disperse the oil differently on the lane.

Bowling ball engineers also change the shape and density of the core of the ball so that it can gyrate (spin on its axis) and hook more or less. Some cores are shaped like bells, some have unusual patterns and other may have spheres or ellipses. The composition of the inside of the ball can allow it go slower or faster. The outer surface or coating a designer puts on the ball can give it more grip on the lane or allow it to slide through the lane oil.

On a typical day, when a player throws a hook, the ball is released with a counter-clockwise rotation and first travels in a straight line as it slides through the oil. A few feet from the pins, when it exits the oil, the friction from the lane causes it to grip the lane and hook into the pins.

Celeste Baine is the author of “Is There an Engineer Inside You?: A Comprehensive Guide to Career Decisions in Engineering“.

Ocean Engineering Careers

The Maritime Engineer: Careers in Naval Architecture and Marine, Ocean and Naval EngineeringMiles below the surface, a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) or underwater robot is exploring the ocean floor. The ROV may be taking pictures, collecting samples of the ocean floor, recovering treasures from a shipwreck, or performing repairs on an underwater structure such as an oil platform.

In the tragic BP oil spill of 2010, underwater robots were the first on-scene to try to fix the spewing oil pipe. Every instrument, device, and process in an ocean environment is the responsibility of ocean engineers. These engineers are at the top of their game because the ocean environment is so corrosive, volatile, and changeable. Waves are never-ending and the devices or gear that is used to explore the marine environment must be able to withstand the “typical” forces of Mother Nature, such as high winds, never-ending waves, and saltwater.

Ocean engineering is a fast growing and dynamic field with opportunities that are expanding as people turn to the oceans for food, transportation, and energy. One of the great things about ocean engineering is that many different types of engineers can work together to find solutions for ocean infrastructure, research, and utilization. Ocean engineering integrates disciplines such as oceanography, materials science, and mechanical, civil, computer, software, marine, chemical, electrical and electronics engineering. In addition to creating ROVs, ocean engineers develop underwater structures, oil rigs, wave buoys for data collection; and they are hard at work developing ways to capture the energy of waves and turn it into electricity. They develop transportation systems, plan new uses for waterways, design deep-water ports, and integrate land and water transportation systems and methods. They are concerned with discovering, producing, and transporting offshore petroleum, and developing new ways to protect marine wildlife and beaches against the unwanted consequences of offshore oil production and storm erosion.

Ocean engineers study all aspects of the ocean environment to determine people’s influence on the oceans and the ocean’s effects on ships and other marine vehicles and structures. The work is global in nature and has never been more important because these professions connect people and places in a way that is unmatched by other engineering careers. Think of the planet Earth as one big web of biodiversity that connects us to all living things. Many people may say that the United States and Japan are separated by the Pacific Ocean. However, in the maritime industry, they say that the oceans connect them.

For more information on engineering careers in the maritime industry, pick up a copy of The Maritime Engineer: Careers in Naval Architecture and Marine, Ocean and Naval Engineering.