Soccer Ball Science: How are Soccer Balls Like Air Domes?
When we explored the history of the soccer ball, it became obvious that a lot of thought went into creating the modern soccer ball. If you look at a soccer ball today and compare it to one from 50 years ago, a lot has changed.
Much of this change is a result of better technology, stronger and lighter materials, and new manufacturing methods.
Like air domes, soccer balls might be more complicated than you realize.
Manufacturing and inflating of air domes for indoor soccer pitches has sparked our curiosity, so here are a few facts about soccer balls you might not have known.
New Soccer Ball Design
The traditional design of soccer balls used pentagons and hexagons, but soccer ball science has been pushing forward the design. The older design helped maintain a round shape for a ball that experiences heavy punishment, and the alternating pattern made it easier for players to read the spin and anticipate the movement of the ball. But there’s always room for improvement.
Newer ball designs such as the Cafusa (made up of 32 panels), Teamgeist 2 (14 panels), and Jabulani (8 panels) have been introduced. The ball used for the most recent World Cup was an Adidas designed ball, called the Brazuca. This ball further developed into the one used at the Euro 2016.
The most recent ball is called the Beau Jeu (French for the beautiful game). The Beau Jeu ball has the same panel design of the Brazuca—six ‘X’ shaped panels. According to Adidas, the six-panel construction creates perfect roundedness and helps ball flight.
If you think that the ball design doesn’t make too much difference, you might be surprised by a the results of a recent study from Nature. Researchers measured the drag forces of several modern soccer ball designs—including the Brazuca design—and found the design actually did affect ball aerodynamics.
Using a wind tunnel and an actual soccer ball-kicking robot, the scientists found the Brazuca ball performed favourably in their tests for drag and consistency in air movement.
Of course, the new design looks cool too!
Soccer Ball Materials
In our earlier soccer ball blog article, we mentioned that soccer balls used to be made from animal sources. While those materials were the best to use at the time, it was hard to maintain consistency. No two pieces of leather are ever the same.
Not surprisingly, soccer ball engineers moved on to synthetic materials that could imitate leather, while maintaining consistency for the ball surface. The Beau Jeu ball is made up a synthetic, leather-like material designed to maintain its shape, feel and weight, and avoid picking up water from rainy pitches.
The Beau Jeu also has no weak points at the seams—they are all thermally bonded. Not unlike the dielectric welding process The Farley Group uses to seal dome material together.
If you haven’t noticed yet, there are a lot of similarities to soccer balls and the air domes in which they are used. Yes, both are inflated with air, but this article should draw more parallels than that. Design and materials are key considerations for modern air supported structure. Air dome shapes maximize strength while resisting wind forces. The newest dome materials are resilient and durable to extend the life of an air structure.
Soccer ball designers and air dome designers have a lot more in common than a love for Soccer!