adidas and Bayer MaterialScience team up to develop the FIFA World Cup ball
Rounder than ever before
High-tech “+Teamgeist™” ball for the biggest sports event of 2006
Wednesday - March 15, 2006, Leverkusen – “We are facing a task that is equivalent at least to the squaring of the circle if not to the sphering of the cube.” This was how Angela Merkel, Germany’s first Federal Chancellor, described the difficult tasks facing her Government weeks ago. The challenge facing adidas and Bayer MaterialScience – one of the biggest plastics producers in the world – in developing the soccer ball for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany was equally daunting. The aim of the project was to make what is, by definition, a round soccer ball even rounder and even better for the biggest sports event in the world in 2006. What has come out of it all, after a long period of intensive joint development work, is a truly high-tech product that answers to the name “+Teamgeist™”.
The word translates into English as “Team Spirit”, and could equally be applied to the many years of outstanding cooperation between adidas and Bayer. “We developed the first all-synthetic ball together for the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. Since then, we have produced a new model for every World Cup and European Championships,” explains Thomas Michaelis, Project Manager for ball development at Bayer MaterialScience. “We spent three years working on this black, white and yellow ball. They were three years of outstanding teamwork, involving many other companies throughout the world.” Materials research, design and production took place simultaneously on several continents. At the end of it all, the successful team achieved something that the former German International, Andreas Brehme, once described as: “Making the impossible possible is a sheer impossibility.”
. The surface of the adidas +Teamgeist™ consists of different layers, which together are responsible for the outstanding properties of the soccer ball, raging from a precise kicking behavior until a very small water uptake. For the manufacture of these layers the polyurethane raw material Impranil® from Bayer MaterialScience is used.
At the beginning of the project, adidas drew up a clear list of detailed and demanding specifications. Michaelis: “With every new ball, adidas tells us exactly what it wants in terms of design and performance. This time the aim was to make the ball even rounder and to maintain its attractive appearance over a long time.” But how round is round? Finding an answer to that question is not quite as easy as the former Hungarian International, Gyula Lorant, once put it: “The ball is round. If it had corners, it would be a cube.”
Round is relative. The “+Teamgeist™” is just one percent away from being a perfect sphere. This makes it particularly accurate as it travels through the air. It is all down to the materials used to make it and the innovative construction. For the first time, the adidas specialists have thrown out the familiar five and six-sided sections to which we have been accustomed over the last few decades and replaced them with propeller-shaped panels. They have also reduced the total number of sections from 32 to 14. Fewer edges and more roundness also means fewer seams and corners in the outer skin so that when the players kick the ball, there is a greater chance that they will make contact with a smooth surface. This increases their chances of hitting the target.
The keep the ball in shape, Bayer’s coating specialists developed a new structure for the outer skin. To begin with, they increased the wall thickness of the ball to 1.1 millimeters to make it rounder and smoother. They also used their experience in shoe development. In the end, they decided to use four different layers of material placed one on top of the other. The decisive component in ensuring an accurate trajectory of the “+Teamgeist™” is the polyurethane-based syntactic foam, which is applied to an adhesive layer that bonds the outer skin to the textile substrate. The foam consists of millions of gas-filled microspheres. “This ensures that the ball quickly returns to its original round shape after becoming deformed when kicked, and it is this that gives it an optimum trajectory,” says Thomas Michaelis. Above the foam layer, the ball has an aliphatic intermediate coat to protect it from external influences such as moisture, and give it exceptional elasticity. Consequently, the only thing that will stop an accurate shot at goal from Ballack, Beckham & Co. from reaching its destination is one of the opposing players getting in the way.
Finally, the ball’s outer finish protects the printed surface from abrasion. It makes for greater durability and gives it a perfect appearance over a long period. The “+Teamgeist™” still gleams like new when the teams leave the pitch exhausted and filthy after a hard match. The material, which is also frequently used as a surface layer in the fashion industry, comes from Bayer MaterialScience’s Impranil® range. In addition to this, “+Teamgeist™” (like two of its predecessors) is no longer stitched but bonded with a patented thermal adhesive coat. The result is that, even in heavy rain, the ball gains scarcely any weight (at most 0.1 %). The era of water-saturated leather balls is definitively over. This one is virtually water-impermeable.
“It’s incredible how much development and material research has gone into it. I always thought you just pumped air into the ball and that was that,” said Rudi Völler, a member of the World Cup winning team of 1990, former boss of the German national team and currently Sporting Director of Bayer 04 Leverkusen. He was quite amazed when he visited the research and development laboratory at Bayer’s plant in Leverkusen to take a closer look. Soccer icon David Beckham captain of the England team, is also impressed: “The ball goes exactly where you want it to go.” German international, Bernd Schneider, endorses Beckham’s comment: “With this ball you can put in perfect crosses for your forwards. And for me as free-kick specialist, it means I can curl the ball round the wall with amazing accuracy.”
It will be interesting to see which team learns first to get the most out of the innovative ball. If you want to find out in an entertaining way how soccer balls have developed over the decades into a high-tech item of sports equipment, visit www.tor.bayerbms.com – and perhaps win an original World Cup ball, too.
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