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Published on May 20th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org


Ceramics in Sports

Published on May 20th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

[Image above] Credit: kcxd; Flickr CC BY 2.0


Whether it be NASCAR or the Olympics, ceramics are helping drivers cross the finish line first and athletes win gold medals on the slopes. Sporting equipment manufacturers are taking advantage of the unique properties of ceramics to make it easier for these competitors to win.


Ceramics keep race cars cool and fast

Carbon/ceramic rotors have been used in race car brakes for more than 15 years. The advantages of these rotors include light weight, durability, and fade resistance, which improves steering precision and handling. Brake discs and pads last a lot longer as well. Silicon nitride balls, which have excellent temperature and wear resistance, are also used in Formula One Racing cars’ wheel bearings and gear boxes to improve performance.


Besides improving the car’s performance, ceramics are also helping NASCAR drivers keep cool in the cockpit, which can reach 115ºF during the race, hot enough to melt the drivers’ shoes. The same type of lightweight ceramic textile used to protect space shuttle tiles, 3M’s Nextel, is being used as thermal barriers for the transmission/tunnel, header/collector, spark plug boots, driver’s floor panel and firewall. Nextel ceramic textiles maintain their strength and flexibility at continuous temperatures in excess of 2000ºF and help keep race car cockpit surfaces 40 percent cooler.


Make a birdie with ceramic putters

High performance ceramic materials are helping to shave strokes off a golfer’s handicap. Ceramics are the perfect material for a putter head because it is lighter and softer than steel and provides increased feel and control. Despite its lightness, ceramic materials have a reputation for durability and toughness. When made of a solid one-piece construction, ceramic putters provide “one huge sweet spot”, which translates into more successful putts and better consistency.


Skiing smarter with piezoelectric fibers

Used by reputable ski manufacturers, revolutionary ceramic disc technology developed by Norton Industries is achieving the sharpest, smoothest ground edge while providing a near mirror finish for skis. Thus, skis and snowboards turn and grip icy slopes better, improving both performance and safety. Edges also remain sharper longer.


Head Sport, a leading sports equipment manufacturer, is also manufacturing “smart” skis that make use of a ceramic’s piezoelectric properties. When skiing at high speeds, skis tend to vibrate, lessening the contact area between the ski edge and snow surface. This results in reduced stability and control and decreases the skiers speed.


The skis are embedded with piezoelectric fiber composites developed by Advanced Cerametrics. These composites convert the unwanted vibrations into electrical energy, thus keeping the skis on the snow. The skis continuously adjust to all conditions, with a maximum reaction time of 5 thousandths of a second. Ceramic fiber technology also guarantees up to 6% more functional edge, helping several athletes at the 2006 Winter Olympics win two gold medals and one silver. The skis are available at high end sporting goods stores and have been the choice of ski instructors and ski patrollers for three years. The skis were one of Time Magazine’s “Coolest Products for 2002″and won the 2003 R&D 100 Award.


Such ceramic fibers have two important qualities: on the one hand they feature exceptional wear resistance and on the other they have far better torsional properties than many plastic materials. However, the main advantage of ceramic fibers is their ability to change shape very slightly when subjected to small electrical charges.


Advanced Cerametrics’ fibers are also used in several of Head’s tennis rackets, adding up to 15% more power to a ball hit. The Intelligence, Protector and LiquidMetal lines of rackets using these piezo ceramic fibers were the largest selling rackets in the world in the 2005/2006 season. They have been clinically proven to eliminate tennis elbow. The Protector racket was also selected 2005 Racket of the Year by Tennis Magazine. In the summer of 2006, smart pool cues made with these fibers (JossWest made by Hamson Industries) won the largest purse ever in a pool tournament.


Snowboards get tougher with composites

The estimated 500,000 to 700,000 active snowboarders now have a stronger, tougher snowboard thanks to special composite materials that combine innovative glass laminates and newly developed carbon fiber materials. The laminates are made from E-glass (PPG or Owens Corning), which has high strength and stiffness, good resistance to moisture, and the ability to maintain strength properties over a wide range of conditions. When Never Summer Snowboard Manufacturing used these composites for their snowboards, they were able to extend their warranty to three years, from the typical one offered by other companies. Broken or cracked sidewalls were also not a problem as with conventional materials.




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