COMPOSITE RACQUET WITH DOUBLE TUBE HEAD FRAME
A sports racquet frame is built of a composite of laminations of fibrous material as impregnated by a thermosetting resin. The head section of the frame has an upper tube preferably disposed above the string bed plane and a lower tube preferably disposed below the string bed plane. A solid bridge of material integrally joins the upper tube to the lower tube. In a preferred embodiment the bridge is disposed radially exteriorly of the center line of the tubes, to maximize the length of string segments, which are strung to the bridge.
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This application is a divisional of copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/854,938 filed May 27, 2004 and assigned to the assignee hereof. The specification and drawings of that application are fully incorporated by reference herein.BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Sports racquets, which term includes tennis rackets, squash racquets, badminton racquets and racquetball racquets, are all strung with strings across a head portion of a frame, which head portion surrounds and defines a string bed. The string bed is designed to intercept and return a game piece such as a shuttlecock, racquetball or tennis ball.
Up into the 1960's sports racquets were made of wood. These racquets were replaced with racquets made of metal, typically of aluminum alloy, although steel has also been used. In the 1970's thermoplastic injection molded racquets were attempted, as reinforced with fiber whiskers. Also in the 1970's sports racquets began to be made from a composite material which has as its basic constituents (a) plural laminations of fibrous material such as carbon fiber, boron, fiberglass and/or aramid compositions, and (b) a binding thermosetting resin. While each succession of materials in general improved strength to weight ratios, the engineering problems associated with them differ markedly.
Racquets made from aluminum and related nonferrous alloys are made from extruded tubes, I-beams and like shapes, with or without internal reinforcing walls. The cross-sectional shape of the frame member is dictated by the extrusion die. The extrusion process permits tight control of the positioning of internal bridges, struts and reinforcements. Straight sections of aluminum extrusion may be stamped with drill positioning dimples, and with dimples or grooves to create space for strings, bumpers and handle parts. The straight extrusion may have sections of it crimped to vary the cross-section shape. The straight extrusion is then formed into a racquet frame by bending.
While forming racquet frames from extruded aluminum alloys is relatively cheap because of lower labor costs, the material has many limitations. An extruded metal cross-section cannot be altered with processes such as welding, crimping or pressing without weakening the strength of the original extruded structure. It is therefore common to have little or no variation in cross sectional shape along the length of the frame. Aluminum extrusions have substantial weight limitations. There may be areas along the frame which require additional strength or flexibility to limit breakage or improve playability. To effect changes to these areas while not weakening the frame, typically the cross-sectional shape along the entire length of the extrusion is changed. Those regions which did not require reinforcement are nonetheless made heavier.
Conventional composite frames are formed in molds. In the most common manufacturing process, a “layup” is created by applying multiple sheets or laminations, commonly formed of fibrous material such as carbon fiber, to a single bladder. The bladder in turn contains a rigid mandrel to control the desired layup shape. The sheets are pre-impregnated with a thermosetting resin prior to their application to the layup. This layup is placed in a mold and the mold is closed. The bladder is inflated with a single air nozzle to force the walls of the layup to the interior walls of the mold and the mold is then subjected to a thermal step. An artifact of this process is that composite racquet frames are commonly of a single-tube design. While there have been multiple-tube composite structures, it has been found that any internal divisions, bridges or lumens placed in these tubes are difficult to control in their placement because of variations in bladder air pressure, and attempts to include them in the past have been found to cause significant quality control and production problems.SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
According to one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a sports racquet with a frame that has a head portion across which strings are strung. The head portion includes an elongate upper tube which is disposed above the string bed plane and an elongate lower tube which is disposed below the string bed plane. A solid bridge of material, without any cavity in the direction of frame elongation (meaning a direction along the curved frame that is tangential to the string bed center), connects the upper tube with the lower tube and intersects the string bed plane. When a cross section is taken of the head portion, a center line can be drawn through the centers of the tubes, and the bridge is disposed to be outward of this center line so as to be relatively remote from the string bed center. This maximizes the free-space length of strings strung to the bridge.
According to another aspect of the invention, a sports racquet is provided which has a frame that is built of a composite of multiple laminations of fibrous material and a polymer, such as a thermosetting resin. A head portion of the racquet frame includes an upper tube, disposed above a plane in which the string bed resides, and a lower tube disposed alongside the upper tube but below the string bed plane. An elongate, solid bridge, without any cavity or void in the direction of frame elongation, is integrally formed with the upper and lower tubes, and joins and spaces apart the tubes. The bridge is the only structure of the frame which intersects the string bed plane. The structure has been found to exhibit superior strength and stiffness characteristics relative to both traditional single-tube composite racquets and aluminum alloy racquets of various extruded shapes.
In a third aspect of the invention, the racquet frame is made of an endless wall that in turn is made up of a plurality of laminations of fibrous material. Viewed in section, the endless wall has an outer portion that is relatively remote from the string bed center and an inner portion that is relatively proximate to the string bed center. The endless wall is used to form the upper tube, the lower tube and a single bridge between the upper and lower tubes. Along the depth of the bridge (defined as a dimension orthogonal to the string bed plane), the outer portion and inner portion of the endless wall are joined together such that there are no cavities or voids in the direction of frame elongation. Preferably, at least one lamination making a part of the endless wall is applied to the layup such that its fibers are aligned at an angle other than zero degrees (parallel to the tube axes) or ninety degrees (perpendicular to the tube axes). Since this lamination is present in both the outer portion of the endless wall and an inner portion of the endless wall, the orientation of the fibers in the lamination in the outer portion is at an angle to the orientation of the fibers in the lamination in the inner portion. This crossing of fiber direction strengthens the racquet frame.
In one embodiment, there is additionally provided one or more fins or walls which extend inwardly from the bridge toward the string bed center, which are joined to the tubes, and which are respectively disposed in planes that are at an angle to the string bed. These fins or walls are spaced apart from each other. Preferably, the fins or walls are integral with the frame structure, and are positioned at locations different than locations of string holes which are drilled into the bridge.
In another embodiment, which optionally may be combined any of the above embodiments, the head portion of the racquet frame has at least one elongate double-tube section that is joined end-to-end with at least one elongate single-tube section. The lengths of the single-and double-tube sections are chosen to best fit the strength and stiffness requirements of the design. In a preferred embodiment, two double-tube to single-tube transitions are effected in the throat area of the racquet.
The two-tube frame of the present invention exhibits greater strength and stiffness than a single-tube frame made with the same amount of material. Alternatively, the two-tube frame of the present invention permits a frame of similar strength and stiffness but using less material than a single-tube design of comparable strength and stiffness. The present invention exhibits far superior strength, stiffness and weight properties relative to known aluminum structures.
The use of a connecting bridge provides a structure through which single string holes can be formed instead of hole pairs through the tubes themselves (in each pair, one in the inner wall and one in the opposed, outer wall). The strength of the tubes themselves does not have to be compromised with holes. In the preferred embodiment, in which the bridge is disposed entirely outwardly of the tube center line, the length of strung string throughout the entire strung area of the racquet is maximized, optimizing the projectile-returning power of the racquet. The present invention provides a continuous channel through which each string segment passes to its connection to the bridge. Therefore, each string, even if it is strung to a point at the racquet corners, is strung in free space to a structure very close to the lateral exterior of the racquet frame, without any interference from support structures disposed interiorly of the bridge. This increases effective strung area of the racquet.
The use of composites (as herein defined to mean resin-impregnated fibrous laminations) permits substantial variation of cross section along the frame's length.BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS
Further aspects of the invention and their advantages may be discerned in the following detailed description, in which like characters denote like parts and in which:
Referring first to
In the illustrated embodiment, the head frame portion 104 has pronounced corners 111 and 113. These corners each possess at least one string hole 115 to which both a long string 108 and a cross string 110 are strung. The present invention permits this economy of string holes while at the same time maximizing the unconstrained length of the strings connected to them, as will be explained further herein.
While the racquet 100 pictured in
Note that in the illustrated embodiment, tubes 112 and 114 are other than circular in cross section. Tubes 112 and 114 can take any of many cross sectional shapes according to the structural requirements of the racquet frame, and indeed these shapes can be varied along the length of the frame, as can be seen by comparing
Upper tube 112 has a center 118, while lower tube 114 has a center 120. A center line 122 can be drawn to connect these two loci. In a preferred embodiment, center line 122 is substantially normal to the string bed plane P. In
This in turn means that an inner surface 132 of bridge 116 is positioned laterally outwardly as far as it can be. That in turn means that a string, such as string segment 134 in
In the illustrated embodiment, the bridge 116 is used as the string-supporting structure rather than either of the tubes 112 or 1 14. In older, simple-oval designs, for each string, a pair of holes had to be drilled, one in the outer wall and one in the inner wall. This hole-pairing raised issues of hole alignments, created additional wear on drills, and, with respect to the drilled inner wall hole, produced interference with the movement of the string, in many instances effectively reducing the unconstrained strung string length to end on the inner wall. In contrast, only one hole per string need be drilled in bridge 116.
The present invention also offers a solution to the problem of how to maximize effective strung length to anchoring points 115 at or near the corners 111, 113 of head frame 104 (see
In a preferred embodiment, upper tube 112, lower tube 114 and bridge 116 retain their basic spatial relationship with each other around a large majority of the periphery of the frame head portion 104, creating a channel of additional free space and an effective extension of active string bed area. Further, it is preferred that at least a central zone of long strings 108 (
There are numerous fibrous materials which can be selected for inclusion in the racquet frame, including carbon fiber and, in areas for which particularly high impact resistance is desired, an aramid fabric such as DuPont's Kevlar. Fibrous materials are available in unidirectional and bidrectional sheets, including woven fabrics. Carbon fiber sheets include standard modulus, intermediate modulus, high modulus and high strength varieties. The fibrous laminations can also be selected from materials including boron and fiberglass.
There are many resin systems usable with the invention, including but not limited to epoxy resins and polyester resins. While thermosetting resins are preferred, thermoplastic polymers can also be used.
It is preferred that at least some of the plies or laminations 144, 146 be applied to the “layup” for the frame such that their fibers are neither parallel to a direction of elongation of the frame head portion 104, nor perpendicular thereto. Instead, they are oriented at a diagonal to these directions. In
Throughout the depth (considered as the direction perpendicular to plane P) of bridge 116, inner side 148 and outer side 150 are effectively fused together. This has a pair of beneficial effects. First, assuming that the number of plies or laminations is held the same, the thickness of bridge 116 is about double that of the wall making up upper tube 112 and lower tube 114. Second, since portions 152, 154 lie close to each other in parallel planes, there is a reinforcing effect because the orientations of the fibers 156 in inner portion 152 cross the orientations of the fibers 156 in the outer portion 154. This produces a stronger structure than where the fibers are all in alignment, much as plywood is stronger than a similar structure of unlaminated lumber.
In a preferred embodiment, the bridge 116 extends through the plane P, and is long enough that the strings connecting to it will not impinge on the exterior surfaces of walls 112 or 114 when they are deflected by an incident projectile.
The present invention also increases the amount of unimpeded string surface area as compared with prior art racquets of similar sizes and shapes. In Table I below, the embodiment of the invention illustrated in
All racquets in the above table are made of similar composite materials and all have a tear drop shape. The frame outside wall area (the area including the frame periphery) of each is substantially identical to the others, and is 115.06 sq. in. For this frame size, this is the theoretical maximum area which could be attained by an unimpeded or unconstrained string surface area. A design objective it to most closely approach this theoretical maximum. The measurements in the table were made of computer assisted design (CAD) drawings which were used to produce the frame molds, and using Autocad software.
In the Bedlam 195, 88% of the available surface area was occupied by strings which deflect unimpeded by any support structure. In the Bedlam Stun, the unimpeded string surface area increased to 91% of the total. The two-tube, remote-bridge morphology of the present invention enhances this percentage to 97% of the total.Manufacture
In manufacturing a composite racquet according to the invention, two individual tubes are rolled using multiple plies of pre-impregnated fibrous material around individual bladders and mandrels. A ply of fibrous material that will encapsulate both tubes 112 and tube 114 is placed on a jig or spacing mold. Such a jig or spacing mold is shown at 300 in
As using spacing mold 300, and referring to
After the addition of one or more encapsulating plies, a special roller tool is used to make sure that there are no voids in that part of the structure which will become part of the bridge, and to compress this part of the layup. Two varieties of such a roller are shown at 330 and 332 in
After the layup is completed, a further, external mandrel 334 is added to the structure, as shown in
Once the layup is completed it is placed into a mold having a special design. In prior art composite racquet manufacturing processes, pressure is applied to the impregnated laminations through use of the internal bladders only. Since bridge 116 has no natural internally pressurizing structure, it must obtain curing pressure from somewhere else. According to one embodiment, this pressure is obtained from the bladders within tubes 112 and 114, and also from mold plates on opposed sides of the bridge 116 during cure. The use of external pressure in this way is, to the inventor's knowledge, unique in composite racquet manufacture.
In this two-tube manufacturing process, it is important to keep the frame layup in the same plane as the center plane of the frame mold. This is obtained by the apparatus illustrated in
To maintain this relationship, the applicants use one or more springs 410 (one shown), the bottom of which reside in respective lower mold receptacles 412, and the top of which are received in respective insert receptacles 414. Alternatively, a foam can be used. Springs 410 maintain the relationship of the inserts 404 to the layup 400 prior to closing the mold, such that a nose 416 of the insert 404 is in registry with the inner surface of bridge 116. When the mold is closed, the upper mold 406 compresses the inserts 404 and springs 410 until inserts 404 adjoin the upper surface of lower mold 408. Failure to do this can result in the nose 416 pinching lower tube 114, causing structural and molding problems. The molding technique of the present invention ensures that tubes 112 and 114 do not shift or twist inside the frame mold during the curing process.
After the mold is closed it is important to supply air to the two bladders simultaneously and at the same pressure. Failure to do this may result in having one tube be larger or in a different position than the other tube.EXAMPLES
To demonstrate the technical advantages of the structure of the present invention over prior art and other structures, a series of tests was performed on a racquet according to the invention and having the morphology shown in
In this test, two round metal rods, 0.75 inches in diameter, are spaced twelve inches apart and fixed to a universal test machine base. The universal test machine used by applicants herein was Model QC 505 P made by Dachang Instruments of Taiwan. The tested racquet was placed on top of the two rods. A third rod, capable of applying loads to the upper portion of the racquet frame and centered at six inches between the two lower rods, is lowered to flex the racquet frame at each designated point across the racquet's frame. A load of fifty pounds was applied to each of four predetermined points, and the amount of flex measured.
The results show a modest improvement in stiffness of the “dual cylinder” composite form according to the invention compared with the prior art traditional oval made out of composite. There is a marked improvement in stiffness as compared with any of the tested aluminum structures, which are also heavier than the “dual cylinder” composite frame.RA Flex Test
This test was performed on the samples above to determine relative flexibility by another method. In this test, a deflection is measured which results from an applied bending moment. The manufacturer of the RA Test apparatus used herein is Babolat VS. The tested sample frame (less handle) was positioned in the RA test fixture. A transverse load was applied to the upper head of the racquet, effecting a bending moment along the length of the frame. The deflection of the upper head is read from the apparatus's deflection gauge. The shaft support stirrup was located 21.6 cm from the end of the RA Test platform. The horizontal bar in the stirrup assembly is lowered to 2.5 cm below the top of the stirrup assembly. A 1661 gram weight was applied to the load lever. The results are shown in Table III.
While according to this test the rigidity of the “dual cylinder” frame according to the invention is slightly better than that of a traditional composite oval cross sectional frame, it is approximately 50% more rigid as compared with aluminum frames that are 20% heavier. The test demonstrates viability of the design in terms of stiffness in comparison with the traditional composite oval, while exhibiting superior characteristics in other respects as is described elsewhere herein.Top Loading Test
The results show that a higher load was required to deflect the “dual cylinder” frame according to the invention than a “traditional oval” composite frame. The frame according to the invention was far stiffer than any of the aluminum structures, even with 20% less weight.Top Loading Test on Frame Sections
In this test, two composite (graphite) and two aluminum frame sections were cut, one from a racquet made according to the invention, and one each from structures shown in
These results show that the structure of the present invention has superior strength characteristics when a load is applied in the direction of the x-axis. In particular, the sample according to the invention is 95% stronger along the x-axis than the traditional oval composite section, and 70% stronger than the tested aluminum structures. The present invention nonetheless has half the weight of the tested aluminum structures.Angle Iron Side Loading Test
A pair of side loading tests was conducted on the composite samples depicted in
While the results of the “longitudinal” test for the prior art composite oval and the “dual cylinder” shape of the invention were comparable, the structure of the invention exhibited far superior strength in the perpendicular “knife edge” test. The present invention shows enhanced performance here because the load is displaced over a larger area.Side Loading to Half-Inch Stop
This test tested a structure according to the invention and racquets having cross-sectional shapes and materials as described for
These tests again demonstrate that a composite structure according to the invention resists a lateral load better than a prior art oval composite frame, and is significantly stiffer than any of the tested aluminum frames.Side Loading Test of Sections
Racquet sections of equal length were cut, one for each of the shapes and materials shown in
Surprisingly, the structure of the present invention was almost as rigid as compared with a traditional oval composite; it had been expected that the present invention would exhibit comparatively less rigidity on this test. The aluminum shapes were 2.7 times stronger than the present invention, however at a penalty of the twice the weight.Slap Test
This test measures the resistance of a racquet frame to impact loads such as might be experienced in a racquet-to-racquet or racquet-to-wall contact, as might occur in racquetball or squash. An unstrung frame sample of the kinds indicated in Table IX was clamped into an apparatus diagrammed in
In operation, the steel tube is pulled back to one of positions 1-5. A stop is pulled out, which releases tube 250 toward pad 256.
From these data, we conclude that the racquet according to the invention is able to withstand a level 3 impact with minimal surface damage, while a traditional oval composite frame fails completely. The present invention exhibits far superior impact results in comparison with the significantly heavier aluminum frames.
In summary, a novel double-tube composite sports racquet frame structure has been shown and described. The structure enhances the unimpeded string length of the racquet's long strings and cross strings, and has been found to be structurally stronger in many respects than prior art composite racquet frames having simple oval cross sections or any of various aluminum shapes.
While preferred embodiments of the present invention have been described in the above detailed description and illustrated in the appended drawings, the present invention is not limited thereto but only by the scope and spirit of the claims which follow.
1. A sports racquet, comprising:
- a frame formed of a composite of plural laminations of fibrous material impregnated with a polymer;
- the frame having an elongate head portion formed around and defining a string bed, the head section including a first tube which is elongate in the direction of elongation of the head portion, a second tube which is elongate in the direction of elongation of the head portion and disposed generally in parallel to the first tube, and a single bridge, elongate in the direction of elongation of the head portion, joining and spacing the first tube with and from the second tube, the bridge having no cavity which is elongate in said direction of elongation of the head portion.
2. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the string bed substantially resides in a string bed plane, the first tube disposed above the plane, the second tube disposed below the plane, the plane intersecting the bridge.
3. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the bridge is substantially perpendicular to the string bed plane.
4. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the head section further includes an elongate single-tube subsection and an elongate double-tube subsection which includes said first and second tubes, the single tube subsection joined to the double-tube subsection end to end, the single-tube subsection being integrally formed with the double-tube subsection.
5. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the head section further includes a plurality of fins formed at an angle to the string bed, to extend inwardly from the bridge and to span the first and second tubes.
6. The racquet of claim 5, wherein string holes are formed at intervals in the bridge to receive string segments, the fins disposed at locations in between the string holes.
7. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the fins are formed to be substantially perpendicular to the string bed.
8. The racquet of claim 1, wherein the racquet is selected from the group consisting of tennis rackets, racquetball racquets, squash racquets and badminton racquets.
9. A sports racquet, comprising:
- a frame head portion defining and supporting a string bed, the string bed having a center and substantially disposed in a string bed plane;
- the frame head portion being comprised of an endless wall of composite material, the composite material formed of a plurality of laminations of fibrous material as impregnated with a polymer, the endless wall having an outer portion relatively remote from the center of the string bed and an inner portion relatively near to the center of the string bed; and
- the endless wall forming an upper tube, a lower tube and a single bridge joining the upper tube to the lower tube, the bridge spacing the upper tube from the lower tube in a depth direction orthogonal to the string bed plane, the outer portion of the endless wall being joined to the inner portion of the endless wall along the depth direction of the bridge.
10. The sports racquet of claim 9, wherein at least one of said plurality of laminations of fibrous material has a fiber orientation that is neither parallel to a direction of elongation of the frame head portion nor perpendicular thereto, said at least one lamination being present in said outer portion of the endless wall and the inner portion of the endless portion, such that fibers in said at least one lamination in the outer portion will be disposed at an angle to fibers in said at least one lamination in the inner portion.
11. The sports racquet of claim 10, wherein the angle is selected from the group consisting of ten degrees, 22 degrees, 45 degrees and 60 degrees.
12. The sports racquet of claim 9, wherein the fibers comprise carbon.
13. The sports racquet of claim 9, wherein the sports racquet is selected from the group consisting of racquetball racquets, tennis rackets, squash racquets and badminton racquets.
14. A sports racquet, comprising:
- a frame having a head portion defining and surrounding a strung area, the frame formed of a composite including plural laminations of fibrous material as impregnated with a polymer, a periphery of the head portion defining a theoretical maximum area across which unconstrained strings can be strung, an actual area across which unconstrained strings are strung being more than 91% of said theoretical maximum area.
International Classification: A63B 51/00 (20060101);