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MMForum: Lessons Learned from Sports-Ball Companies in Exploring New Markets for Steel

In its earliest days, soccer was played using a pig’s bladder, and football using a pigskin.  It was not until the 19th century that a rubberized ball was created. Thankfully, the rubberized ball became more popular than a pig’s bladder, and was made amply available by various ball manufacturers.  This was most likely due in part to a ball-manufacturing company who had an existing product that required a bit of modification in order to advertise the modern soccer ball to a new customer base. 


In much the same way, modifying steel and creating new varieties with different mechanical properties will broaden the applications steels are suited for. My research focuses on optimizing structural properties of steel to achieve better mechanical performance, including improved bendability, edge stretching, punched-hole dilation, and yielding behavior.  With each newly developed steel comes a new potential application that a customer may desire.  Whether the new steel improves an existing application for a customer, or breaks into a new market altogether, steel mills will benefit by improving customer satisfaction, offering more customized products, and by a more diversified product line that will help devise winning strategies to grow the business.  By having a fundamental understanding steel alloying and processing techniques, creating new steels to market to new applications become feasible and most likely improves your customer’s experience.  A wider range of products affords greater opportunities to target audiences in a more personalized way.  Further, multiple steels give more options to marketers for advertising to new customers, potentially replacing material from another supplier with yours. 


I feel some challenges for steel companies are to understand existing customer’s needs, and to identify new applications that steel could be used for. My research will allow for steels to be tailored to specific applications, increasing customer satisfaction, and potentially allowing for the newly developed steels to serve in new applications that were once inaccessible to the steel companies. 


After the creation of the soccer ball, it was not long until the ball-manufacturing company modified their product again to replace the tennis ball, which was originally made from leather and stuffed full of wool. The ball-manufacturing company soon learned how to modify their product to accommodate almost every sport, creating new applications while still satisfying their existing customers, and never leaving their core field of expertise.  Now, sports such as rugby, football, soccer, tennis, basketball, racquet ball, and volleyball all use balls that are made of rubber, are pressurized, and have a unique shape/size.

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      Author's profile photo Ursula Gruen
      Ursula Gruen

      Hello Mark,

      thanks for your analogy! To me it helps to better understand the dynamics in the industry.

      One purely administrative thing - could you increase the font size of your blog a little? I find it extremely hard to read...

      Kind regards,


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author


      Thanks for your comment.

      I hope 14pt Font will be easier to read.  I initially used whatever the blog defaulted to.


      Author's profile photo Ursula Gruen
      Ursula Gruen

      Thanks a lot - much better to read for old poeple like me 😛 .

      Author's profile photo Stefan Weisenberger
      Stefan Weisenberger

      Hej Mark,

      new applications is a huge opportunity, but not an easy one, I would say.

      Some weeks ago I stumbled on metals and alloys with special properties, like Nitinol (a metal alloy of nickel and titanium with shape memory and super-elasticity). 
      If you could deliver such properties robustly and repetitively, I can imagine many applications.

      Looking at the scratches on the screen of my smartphone, I feel also reminded of an article comparing sapphire glass to gorilla glass - another material application & research race that could make consumers live a lot easier. No more screen protections needed.

      The margin for such applications is impressive - compared to ordinary window glass.

      I'd love to have a car that bounces back instead of getting a dent, for example.

      Or a really rugged pair of jeans, maybe with steel fibres instead of kevlar.

      Do you have a gut feeling whether this kind of out of the box research is happening at metals companies today, or is this purely universities for material science?



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author


      Thanks for your comment.  There are many facets of materials engineering, as I'm sure you are aware. There are research centers (mostly nat'l labs and universities) that focus on the fundamental behavior of steels at the nanoscale.  There are other research centers (universities and steel industry R&D) that focus on optimizing mechanical properties using knowledge gained from the nanoscale research, and developing new products.  I believe that applications for steel, such as reinforced fibers in jeans, could be an interest to steel industry R&D labs, but they would have to be approached by the company/end-user who desires it.  Simply put, if a jean-manufacturing company wanted to create steel-reinforced fibers, they would need to approach a steel company with specific mechanical properties, at which point the steel industry R&D becomes involved in this "out-of-the-box" field of study by trying to achieve the properties.

      Author's profile photo Brigitte Kleinschmidt
      Brigitte Kleinschmidt

      Hello Marc, could you please get in touch with me directly in regards of your thank you gift. Please follow me on SCN, so that you are able to send me a message. Regards, Brigitte

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Hello Brigitte,

      I believe I am "following" you now on SCN. I'll try and send a message through your profile.