The long awaited arrival of the adidas Carbonbraid is finally over. Launched on the final day of the Hockey World Cup in Den Haag last year, the sticks are now here and on our shelves. But, their journey was not a simple one...
Following the huge success of Hockey at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and before the German celebrations had subsided, adidas were already re-committing to Hockey. A commitment beyond even the development of the adiPower Shoe and adiStar before it (both developed specifically for Field Hockey).
Like the elite athletes they serve, adidas began a new cycle. Another programme with years of focus to get to the next Olympic Games at Rio. And just like the athletes that have their goal of a winners medal, Adidas had a goal. A very specific goal - to make the world’s best performing hockey stick.
The product engineers at adidas started to talk to the many top hockey players they work with across the globe. They asked what players like about sticks, what they don't like, how can they improve, and what would make the perfect stick for them.
The technical research then began, buried deep in the labs at their secretive HQ in Herzogenaurach. . Starting with a detailed performance analysis of the sticks already on the market, collecting data and knowledge to provide the bench mark for improvement. The best must be better than this; and many of you will know adidas had already emerged as an excellent hockey stick manufacturer in its own right after a relatively short time in the market. So this is an already high benchmark to surpass
adidas knew the techniques for producing carbon fibre sticks could only deliver so much through new shapes, material selection and lay up - all of which can produce wildly different products, an important factor to know when choosing a good stick. But this was not enough, they needed something different, something with finer tolerances, something precision, and repeatable time after time to bring that perfect stick to the world’s best, and ultimately to the masses at club level across the world
The project lead Andre Pechtold had already delivered globally successful products like the complete redesign of the champions league football - still used today, with its unique panel design, and materials never before used in footballs. So, with two years development ahead Andre studied the data, and searched for a new way to do this. Why do we make them like this he asked? Just like he had before redesigning the football. He started all over again, and said how do we make the best hockey stick in the world?
Materials research still pointed to carbon fibre, so the question for Andre soon became: how do you make the best carbon fibre hockey stick in the world?
Looking back now, it seems obvious. Carbon braiding. A technique used to make highly precise parts for the aerospace and automotive industries. Products that cannot afford to fail or lives will be at risk. Products including yachting masts, that need to be light, and incredibly strong. Products like drive shafts for high performance cars, like connecting pipes for fuel lines in rocket ships, that need to withstand huge forces and cannot afford to fail. Maybe something closer to home, like the carbon braided rims and whole bike frames that are the lightest in the world, whilst being strong enough to withstand the forces they endure performing the functions for which they were made.
Carbon braiding - easy, right? You simply braid a stick shape?
Of course, perfection is never that simple. And you'll all know that a stick has to feel good, it has to be responsive, it has to hit well, not vibrate, and not feel tinny, too hard or too soft. It needs to be stiff without breaking your hands every time you hit the ball.
So, adidas went back to the lab.
Back in the lab, but this time focusing on modelling. Computer modelling to test the concepts and forces, test the responsiveness of the range under stick conditions, time and time again. Then they tested the braiding samples and compared. Somehow it didn't quite work, but then they computer modelled a stick that transferred more energy than anything they had. A stick that was stiff but flexible. The physics seemed simple to Andre, but when we've know all the time that stiffness helps us hit harder, because more energy is transferred to the ball, the stick doesn't flex as much on impact. So, how can it be that it can be stiff and flexible?
Andre explained by drawing on a childhood experiment - or class foolery in some cases... ever twanged a ruler on the edge of a desk he said? It's about the return to original state he said. You change the way the ruler responds by the amount that sticks off the desk. You can also change the materials of the ruler, or the thickness but when you twang it, it goes back to the middle. It's the same with the stick - it's how quickly can we get it back to the middle after you hit.
"So this is what we tried to do with carbon braid. We like the flex and the flex is not our enemy, it is good, you can feel the ball really well, we just needed to make the flex responsive enough to come back to the middle quickly."
Intriguing, so this is almost the opposite of what they do already. With carbon braiding, because you can control every fibre, at every position in the stick, you can really start to make sticks that perform to specifications.
That was not it of course, they made countless versions and each version underwent a number of hours in the lab hitting a hockey ball. Not like we do (or many of us do), rather a robot arm, hitting the ball in exactly the same place, every single time, with exactly the same speed. Sounds futuristic for sure, and especially to hear this for hockey specific products.
We now understand that Andre was describing a series of repeatable precision impact, stress, and torsion tests performed by monitored machines that feed the data back to the central computer. Sensible.
Having done all this he says, "now we have Carbonbraid, and Carbonbraid is really the best stick that we can make"
But of course that is not it yet, the Carbonbraid journey has really only just begun. It's here now and some of you already have it. So tell us what you think. Tell us about your experience with carbon braid. It seems set to revolutionise the way sticks are made, but it's you the players who will ultimately decide.