Wilson Steps up to the Plate to Accelerate Bat Design

The combination of Nexa3D and Addifab freeform injection molding creates a prototype process that lets Wilson fail fast and score more innovative designs.

The combination of Nexa3D and Addifab freeform injection molding creates a prototype process that lets Wilson fail fast and score more innovative designs.

The Nexa3D and Addifab system helps the Wilson R&D team eliminate steps when designing new tooling for baseball bats. Image Courtesy of Wilson Sporting Goods

Baseball bats may look simple, but their design is quite complex.

In order to hit it out of the park, Wilson Sporting Goods needed a workflow that allowed the sporting goods manufacturer to take concept bats from “art to part” in the shortest amount of time without dependence on highly-trained injection molding experts. Wilson’s goal was to zero in on an alternative to its traditional metal tooling and prototyping methods, allowing it to quickly crank out functional and testable prototypes and get product to market quicker.

The solution came in the form of a new digital workflow combining 3D printing and freeform injection molding delivered through a partnership with Nexa3D and Addifab (Nexa3D acquired Addifab in April). Nexa3D’s large print build envelope and ultrafast LSPc process lets multiple parts be printed simultaneously and quickly, allowing the R&D team to explore multiple design iterations in a single print batch. The addition of the Addifab solution brings fast-turn, plastic injection molding into the mix to produce the proposed bat part prototypes—a process change that has been instrumental to shortening the product development lifecycle.

Historically, Wilson was highly reliant on skilled injection molding specialists to create the molds along with engineers responsible for creating design inputs—both constrained resources that was limiting the team’s ability to innovate. “I have all these pain points along the way at the design and build phase,” notes Glen Mason, director of advanced manufacturing at Wilson. “What the freeform injection molding technology allows me to do is go from art to printed mold with no touch to make parts. That has completely transformed our workflow. In a constrained resource situation, we have dozens, potentially hundreds, of ideas that never see the light of day.”

Using AM to quickly prototype bat parts is just one part of the equation. Mason says it’s just as important to prototype the process to determine whether the combined design and material produces a winning bat at scale. “A prototype part only informs me about fit and function and if it’s not in the correct material, I can’t even do performance testing,” Mason explains, adding the end product from the AM-only process is just a novelty. “That’s really where our 3D printing journey was prior to Addifab and Nexa3D. “We were making things to look at, but they were almost useless.”

The Nexa3D/Addifab digital workflow gets Wilson to fully molded parts in hours, allowing the bat design team to make better decisions about future products. For instance, mold build time has gone from two weeks to one week, and the overall idea-to-part time has been cut from 12 weeks to seven weeks (a 40% decrease) while also removed two “touch points” in the process that previously required expert input, Mason says. AM-produced tooling also eliminates much of the design complexity associated with traditional subtractive molding when producing complex geometries. “A lattice is a great example of an incredibly complex (or impossible) shape that would require massive design and build efforts when the 3D printed version is extremely easy,” Mason says.

As parts and tooling get even more complex, Mason expects Wilson to expand its use of similar digital workflows. “I don’t see a future that is less complex than the present,” he says. “Using a workflow that allows us to quickly test and develop parts and processes with an ever-increasing complexity enabled by low-cost, elegant AM technology will only become more valuable as time goes on.”

Watch this video to learn more about Wilson Sports’ new digital workflows built around Nexa3D and Addifab solutions.

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Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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