Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Molder i2tech’s Up-Front Collaboration Optimizes New Product

The new Swing Strong Training Bat for baseball and softball players

Injection-molded of polypropylene with structural foam, the new weighted Swing Strong Bat helps baseball and softball players add speed and power to their swings.


The new plastic Swing Strong baseball/softball training bat going on the market this fall is a true breakthrough for ballplayers. Its innovative design can help every hitter, Little League tyke or Major League pro, to gain a quicker, more powerful swing.

In addition, the Swing Strong development process offers a textbook example of how a brand owner and a plastics molder/manufacturer can collaborate to optimize a product and its manufacturing.The Swing Strong baseball/softball training bat

Conceived and designed by SwingPRO LLC (Urbandale, IA), using input from major league and college baseball teams, the Swing Strong Bat eliminates the weighted  “donuts” and sleeves that ballplayers put on their bats to warm up before hitting. A major problem with the donuts and sleeves, says SwingPRO, is that they train players to throw their hands away from their bodies, rather than helping them develop a compact, efficient swing.

The Swing Strong Bat, with weights at its base, middle, and far end, is designed to strengthen the wrists and develop an efficient swing that brings the bat to the ball quicker and with more power.

Earlier this year,

SwingPRO LLC (Urbandale, IA), which developed and now markets the successful SwingPRO golf-swing trainer, brought its Swing Strong Bat concept and a prototype to discuss production with plastics molder/manufacturer i2tech (Innovative Injection Technologies LLC) of West Des Moines, IA.

The Swing Strong family includes molded plastic bats in two lengths, 29 and 32 inches, each available in lighter and heavier weights. One of the resulting four bats will work for any ballplayer from little kid to pro slugger. The bats also offer an important safety bonus. Unlike some other training aids, the weights inside the molded polypropylene structural foam Swing Strong bats cannot come free accidentally as the bat is being used.

SwingPRO stressed the importance of that safety feature when it met with i2tech. Kevin Morris, project tooling engineer at i2tech, says the customer’s thinking at that time was to contain the weights in a cage that would snap closed, or alternatively, to weld the weights in. This original concept also presented manufacturing concerns about being able to do this in a cost-effective manner.

After applying its in-depth toolmaking and plastics molding expertise to SwingPRO’s requirements and specs, i2tech recommended insert over-molding, positioning the weights in the empty mold and then injecting the polymer to enclose them such that they cannot be separated from the bat structure. After questions and discussion, SwingPRO approved the solution to the safety and manufacturing issues.

Morris says that additional proof  the weights are held securely came when i2tech had to remove the weights for engineering analysis of the first molded parts. “That took,” he says, “a lot of really hard work.”

Swing Strong Training Bats

Despite different lengths and weights, the four models of the Swing Strong bat are produced in a single mold using interchangeable cavities, cores, and slides.

Further optimization, including significant cost savings, resulted from i2tech’s suggested mold design. By using interchangeable cores, cavities and slides, the four different Swing Strong Bats can be manufactured in a single mold, rather than making separate molds for each length. Among other technologies, the mold utilizes rare earth magnets and locating pins to ensure  the weights remain in the correct position during overmolding.

Still another benefit accrues because the finished bats can go directly from the mold to packing and shipping: The cost and time for separately assembling or welding in the weight inserts are eliminated.

Brand owners do not need to know as much about toolmaking and plastics molding processes as those who do that work every day, as long as they know that collaborative product and process optimization can shrink production costs, optimize product design, and bring the product to market sooner, and that it works best when done up front.

i2tech is a member of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association.

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