From The Lab: Engineered Hitting Zone - Axe Barrel Technology

One of the most common questions we get from people hearing about the Axe Bat for the first time concerns durability. Specifically, they worry that the Axe Bat will wear out faster because its asymmetric handle orients the barrel the same way on every swing, causing most impacts to occur around the same spot.

Today, we’ll dispel this myth and explain why having an Engineered Hitting Zone is not only an advantage, but the key to the next big wave of bat innovation. Our source, again, is Hugh Tompkins, Axe Bat's Director of Research & Development.

Q: So, Hugh, what do people mean by “one-sided” hitting?
A: With the Axe Handle, you’re always going to hit on the same general area of the bat. Obviously, it’s one of the first things everyone thinks of with the Axe Bat.

Q: This was something you identified early in the Axe Bat’s development?
A: Absolutely. We knew we were going to have to design our barrels differently from the start.

Q: What was the initial thinking? Did you see this as a problem?
A: Not really. In fact, Larry Carlson, our Head of Engineering, came at it a little bit differently. Larry knows as much about building bats as anyone in the world and is a gifted engineer in a lot of fields, not just bats. He said asymmetric bats, in general, should be a huge advantage.

The reason is, as an engineer, you always want to know where a force is coming from. If you’re given the choice of building something that must withstand an impact from any direction vs. from only one direction, you’re going to pick the latter every time. If you know the direction of the impact, you can plan for it. You can engineer for it. You can design for it. So building a barrel where you only have to worry about the ball striking it in one location is a huge advantage in the design process.

Q: Is there bat-industry precedent or is this an entirely new concept?
A: It’s not totally new. If you think about it, wood bats have always had this feature. We’ve known for a long time that with face grain vs. end grain, depending on the wood type, there’s a hot side and a dead side. So for solid wood bats, it has always been that way. It wasn’t until the bat industry started getting into exotic materials — the first aluminum bats, the first carbon fiber bats, the first titanium bats — that this idea of rotating the barrel really became prominent.

Q: How did you go about addressing the barrel challenge presented by the Axe Bat?
There’s a lot of different ways to do that, depending on the material type. But our first major barrel technology was Plus Plus Composite, which basically utilizes two asymmetric slip planes to balance durability and performance.

Q: What are slip planes? Can you explain?
So with carbon fiber, thinner tends to be more lively. A thin barrel is more springy. That’s why you see guys who try to cheat shaving the inside of their bats; that makes the walls thinner. But thinner is less durable.

Our approach to developing barrel technology for the Axe Bat was to address durability first. We said, let’s make the barrel thicker on the hitting face. Well, then, like I said, the bat’s not as hot. The way around that when working with carbon fiber is to use slip planes. So instead of having one wall that’s thick, we made two thin walls that can slide past each other. This gives the same effect as if the hitting face had one very thin wall, but with the durability of a thick wall.

Q: How does this system work together?
 We place these two, C-shaped slip planes at the point of impact. They’re about six inches long and go the length of the hitting face. Then on the backside of the barrel — where the ball is never hit — we make the wall super thin. What that does is when the ball impacts the barrel, and the barrel starts to ovalize, that thin backside has some flex and acts like a leaf spring to push the ball out and give it more exit velocity.

Q: Inside, the barrel is asymmetric?
A: Yes, if you cut open our Plus Plus Composite barrel, it’s subtle, but you’d see it’s thin on the backside and thicker on the hitting face. We call this reinforced hitting face our “Engineered Hitting Zone” and you can see it labeled on the outside of the bat.

Q: How big is the Engineered Hitting Zone?
A: It’s about 270 degrees. It covers anywhere a player could possibly strike the ball using the proper grip.

Q: Which of the 2015 Axe Bats have the Plus Plus Composite technology?
A: It’s in our current Avenge youth baseball (L142B), fastpitch (L150B) and slow pitch (L154A and L155A) bats.

Q: What other barrel technologies do you use?
A: For our two-piece composite BBCOR bat, the Axe Avenge L140B, we use a new technology called ACR. The principle is similar to Plus Plus in that the non-hitting side of the barrel acts as a leaf spring, but it’s a different implementation.

Q: How so?
A: First of all, carbon fiber is a very difficult bat to make, especially for BBCOR. The reason is because every time you hit carbon fiber, the fiber breaks apart a little bit. That makes the bat just a little bit hotter every time you hit it. BBCOR rules require a composite bat break before it reaches the .500 threshold. So you have to design a bat to break right before it goes over that mark. You don’t want it to be too low because nobody will buy the bat, but you don’t want to go over because the bat will be ruled illegal. It’s a real “Goldilocks” zone you have to find between durability and performance.

With ACR technology, we insert a carbon fiber band into the barrel at the sweet spot. It’s asymmetric with an opening on the non-hitting side, and doesn’t break down like the barrel does. By putting this ring in, we’re able to get tighter to that line (BBCOR .500) and hold the bat’s performance there longer before the catastrophic break occurs as required by the test.

Q: What about aluminum Axe Bats? How do you address this concern in those models?
A: We have two approaches with aluminum. First, we use a special technology that gives us a great deal of control over wall thickness. From the handle to the end cap, every millimeter of our barrel is a designed wall thickness. That allows us to tune for balance and barrel performance, and eliminate any excess, unnecessary metal.

Second, and more important, is metal quality. We use a high-grade metal in our bats that has a very high KSI (kilopounds per square inch). This allows us to have impacts on the same side, over and over again, and still see the same durability as a traditional bat players might rotate.

Q: Speaking of rotating bats, is that still a thing? Should players still be doing it?

A: You know, that concept started with the industry’s first aluminum bats, which were not very good compared to what we have today. So the idea that you have to rotate an aluminum bat is kind of an antiquated notion, in general.

But then when carbon fiber came along, all of a sudden it became important again because carbon fiber, as this new material, was breaking down. The bat industry went back to consumers and said, “Don’t forget. Remember how we talked about in the early days of aluminum you had to rotate your bat? Well, that’s still true and even more important now with carbon fiber.”

Now, the carbon fiber is getting to the point where even it doesn’t necessarily need to be rotated. And what bat manufacturers are realizing is that if players don’t rotate the bats, the bats break in quicker and get hot quicker. So the whole idea, generally, is becoming outdated. That’s just technology improving.

Q: What’s next with barrel technologies from Axe Bat?
A: There are coming Axe Bat barrel technologies that are going to get us closer to performance limits and have more durability than a 360-degree bat. Right now, those are our two big advantages — we can get closer to the line and make the bat more durable. But very soon, within the next year or two, there’s going to be this third advantage. I can’t talk about that yet, but it is going to change the game for bat makers and be truly groundbreaking.

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