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PostPosted: 18 Mar 2017, 09:35 
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ITTF President Thomas Weikert ensures work to improve quality of balls

17 Mar 2017
Since Tuesday 1st July 2014, the ITTF made the use of plastic balls instead of the traditional celluloid balls mandatory for all ITTF sanctioned and World Title events. Many players around the world have expressed their concern regarding the difference in characteristics of a ball sold by different manufacturers and brands. ITTF President Thomas Weikert opens up on his plans to tackle this issue.

By Neha Aggarwal
Since the change, the main issue that has been put forth is that a ball from different manufactures acts differently, thus making it difficult for the players to adjust to the change. The ITTF understands this issue, and has been relentlessly working to minimize such differences in order to provide the best equipment to the players.

Current situation
“The ITTF understands that the transition between the celluloid ball and the plastic ball has not been as smooth as we would have liked! However, we have been working very closely with our ball manufacturers,” admitted Thomas Weikert. “For example our World Tour ball sponsor DHS has been working hard to improve the quality of the balls and has been recently distributing new and improved balls to the top players, apparently the new balls are more resilient and the best thing is the price can be decreased.”

Currently there are 93 different brands of table tennis balls approved by the ITTF, including 35 celluloid balls, which gives the opportunity to a lot of different brands to have a presence in their respective geographical markets and ensures the availability of balls to be sold all over the world. However, different brands may have slightly different characteristics, making it a point of dissatisfaction from players.

“This is perhaps due to the wide range of materials currently allowed in ITTF’s rules, which is at the same time positive as it gives the opportunity to manufacturers to work with all sorts of plastic but at the same time difficult to ensure that all different types of balls have otherwise same or similar playing properties,” said Weikert.

Measures to improve quality
Thomas Weikert understands this issue, and thus, along with his entire team, he has been making efforts to reduce these differences.
“We know that our manufacturers, based on our strong encouragement, have been researching, testing and looking for new production technologies to improve the quality of the ball. At the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour Korea Open, ITTF’s partner DHS will start supplying new DHS D40+ balls, which according to our feedback is preferred by a lot of the players compared to the DHS 40+ balls. Hopefully it will ensure more spectacular rallies and more durable balls for all table tennis players.” – Thomas Weikert

He further added, “We are currently investigating ways to evaluate the tolerances to ensure that all ITTF approved balls are of similar quality and characteristics, regardless of the type of plastic they are made or what manufacturer they are coming from.

Assurance
During the recent EC meeting in Dubai, the Japanese representative Mr. Maehara Masihiro expressed the dissatisfaction from manufacturers on the rule that allowed a larger tolerance in bounce of the balls.
“As ITTF President and to support my colleague, I have decided to look closely at this decision and to investigate whether we maybe need to go back to the original tolerance. We will look closely whether necessary and if yes at how to do that within the rule structure in the next weeks,” assured Thomas Weikert.

Explaining Tolerance Range
As mentioned in the chart below, seven properties are tested for a ball to be approved by the ITTF. Currently, the range of each property is high, which is sometimes responsible for a difference in the characteristics of a ball produced by different manufacturers.
Attachment:
Plastic-balls-QA.png
Plastic-balls-QA.png [ 119.57 KiB | Viewed 839 times ]


The ITTF is currently looking to resolve this issue to reduce these differences to promote similar characteristics in balls produced by different manufacturers.

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PostPosted: 18 Mar 2017, 10:10 
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The timing of this is rather convenient, just before an election. This should have been tackled years ago IMO, as players have been concerned with this for years!

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PostPosted: 18 Mar 2017, 10:40 
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Typical ITTF "spin" on a bad situation they created. Their whole false worldwide celluloid ban was smoke and mirrors to hide the transition to a new larger ball and has been mismanaged from the get-go. So corrupt.

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PostPosted: 21 Mar 2017, 08:13 
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The ball situation is slowly improving (which will become obvious as the new ABS balls from DHS and their rebranded versions become more widely available). But from the start this was not handled well, that is for sure. There were rumors about seamless patents and who held them and their relationship to people in ITTF that smelled bad -- as did really anything surrounding Sharara and his cronies. And of course, the goal all along was larger balls no matter what they claimed. Otherwise they could have mandated a change in material without also a change in size. I don't want to minimize the issue of safety at celluloid plants. I just don't really believe that ITTF cared as much about that as they claimed.

But like I said, we may soon be coming to a time when balls get a little less variable depending on brand.

Is Weickert's "work to improve ball quality" a real thing? He will claim it is. Spin for sure. Maybe taking credit for something he had little to do with.

I think the real work was done by engineers who actually figured out how to make a decent plastic ball -- the people who came up with ABS material (Nittaku was the first to sell them) and also the people who developed seamless balls. And those technologies should have been in hand and tested and known to be at least as good as they are now before mandating the change.

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PostPosted: 21 Mar 2017, 08:48 
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93 different brands is not the issue and as president he knows that. Forget brands, it's the number of manufacturers and that's only a handful who make the balls for others to brand as their own. So why the difference? Because in the ITTF's race to finally get a plastic ball out before the 2016 Olympics they allowed different standards for a plastic ball to a celluloid ball, allowed those standards to be temporary and allowed balls made before Jan 2016 still to be sold after jan 2016 even if they wouldn't meet the reinstated requirements. We now have lots of different balls with the same branding but from different manufacturing batches as manufacturers continue to develop the plastic ball. It - the plastic ball - should never have been authorised until it had been fully developed and met the original ball specifications. Anyone buying new plastic balls should insist on knowing their date of manufacture before buying them - or sellers should be required to display it on their websites.

The ITTF president is on to a winner. As the earlier "prototype" balls are all sold, the later developed ones will become the norm. By natural market supply and demand and him buying time for the development to be completed with his latest rhetoric the problem will solve itself and he can claim credit whilst distancing himself from the original decision to introduce them. He is on to a winner and he knows it or he would have kept quiet and let the ITTF equipment committee fall on their sword.

My question would be why have the 65 brands of balls been allowed to keep their ITTF authorisation if the ITTF openly accept there are still issues with the plastic balls? Who's randomly testing the balls you and I can buy. How many tests have been made and what were the results.

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PostPosted: 21 Mar 2017, 11:56 
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Debater asked:
Quote:
My question would be why have the 65 brands of balls been allowed to keep their ITTF authorisation if the ITTF openly accept there are still issues with the plastic balls? Who's randomly testing the balls you and I can buy. How many tests have been made and what were the results.


Yeah, I asked this as an off topic aside in the "Is the rubber supplied to us amateur plebs, low-level pros, high level non-CNT pros and CNT pros the same?" (my summary of what it sort of turned into :)) topic. I asked where were the reports of the randomly bought balls failing the tests (or even being tested for that matter) and what sort of sanction is there for failure (or is failure not an option?). Paging Torsten?

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PostPosted: 21 Mar 2017, 18:15 
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I do feel offended by the Weikert-statement. As already stated it's not the 65 approved balls but the previously poor quality and the very different characteristics of the balls from just 4 producers that should be noted. Then claiming that the plastic-ball is superiour just because of better (tighter?) tolerances is also just smoke & ruse, taking the audience for stupid fools.
He then crowns it by claiming that tighter tolerances will be set and that they'll look into the improvements. Smoke and ruse, once again.

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PostPosted: 24 Mar 2017, 07:12 
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Retriever wrote:
Debater asked:
Quote:
My question would be why have the 65 brands of balls been allowed to keep their ITTF authorisation if the ITTF openly accept there are still issues with the plastic balls? Who's randomly testing the balls you and I can buy. How many tests have been made and what were the results.


Yeah, I asked this as an off topic aside in the "Is the rubber supplied to us amateur plebs, low-level pros, high level non-CNT pros and CNT pros the same?" (my summary of what it sort of turned into :)) topic. I asked where were the reports of the randomly bought balls failing the tests (or even being tested for that matter) and what sort of sanction is there for failure (or is failure not an option?). Paging Torsten?


Yes, failure is an option, see page 13 of what I put together 18 months ago ( http://old.ittf.com/stories/pictures/Pl ... Q_A_v2.pdf ) and what will be updated during spring. Actually these failures -regardless whom it hit and which ITTF will not publish- were one of the drivers to the "2nd generation balls", indeed the good work of engineers and their teams. We will begin to test them shortly, in what we called the "round 2017-2018", as they now become more and more available for our mystery shopping.


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PostPosted: 24 Mar 2017, 09:40 
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Torsten, I'm going to offer a very well-informed opinion, even though you are not asking for it.

We now have good 40+ balls on the market, for example Nittaku Premium 40+ (from Japan), the ITTF approved seamless balls, and most recently the new DHS D40+ ABS balls, which are excellent (and sold at a very good price). While these three types of balls are not identical in characteristics, they are close enough that we can live with it. Their uniformity is similar to variation between different good celluloid balls. In other words, in the celluloid era one could have a reasonable personal favorite (mine were Nittaku Japan and Butterfly Japan) but you didn't need to make any real adjustment in how you played if you abruptly started to play with a different ball brand, like DHS or DF or whatever. That has not been the case with 40+ balls.

In addition, the seamless and D40+ balls are also quite durable, which matters a lot to amateur players and smaller financially strapped clubs (and remember, ITTF represents all of us).

In the very near future there will be no longer any reason for ITTF to approve most of the miserable cellulose acetate balls that we have lived with since 2014. Their performance has been terrible from the start and it seems likely that the problems can never be solved by using that particular material. They look eggs, they break like eggs, and they bounce inconsistently, and really, they have not been improved appreciably since their introduction. Regarding bounce, they may barely pass a static bounce test, but that goes out the window when you actually play with them.

In addition, the ITTF ought to consider some regulation about outer surface texture. In particular the G40+ ball from Butterfly behaves terribly because its outer surface is so smooth. That makes the G40+ also an outlier compared to the decent 40+ balls.

So if ITTF is really interested in making the balls more uniform, and I applaud that, those are steps that could be taken fairly soon. Most of the 40+ cellulose acetates marketed now are re-brands from the factories that produce balls for Double Happiness and Double Fish, so there shouldn't be a serious problem with those same companies re-branding the ABS balls instead of the cellulose acetate balls.

I have tried almost every 40+ ball on the market -- certainly I have had extensive experience now with each of the main classes -- and began using them exclusively as soon as they were available to buy on line. I have weighed them with laboratory balances, monitored their roundness and veer and have given them to professional players to try out. I now have extensive experience on what makes them break, how long they last on average, and how the ball surface holds up over time. It is not based on small sample sizes at this point. So I hope you won't immediately dismiss my suggestion.

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PostPosted: 25 Mar 2017, 00:41 
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I guess that Butterfly G40+ does have some coating that wears off quickly. They're not that smooth when you pick a fresh one out of the box, but even then it behaves too different compared to the 3 other ones.
If they really use a coating layer I do hope the dust from wearing off doesn't pose a threat to the lungs. Oh, and they (BTY) give advice to wash the G40+ balls before using them in a robot.

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PostPosted: 25 Mar 2017, 04:17 
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Baal wrote:
Torsten, I'm going to offer a very well-informed opinion, even though you are not asking for it.

We now have good 40+ balls on the market, for example Nittaku Premium 40+ (from Japan), the ITTF approved seamless balls, and most recently the new DHS D40+ ABS balls, which are excellent (and sold at a very good price). While these three types of balls are not identical in characteristics, they are close enough that we can live with it. Their uniformity is similar to variation between different good celluloid balls. In other words, in the celluloid era one could have a reasonable personal favorite (mine were Nittaku Japan and Butterfly Japan) but you didn't need to make any real adjustment in how you played if you abruptly started to play with a different ball brand, like DHS or DF or whatever. That has not been the case with 40+ balls.

That is very good to hear, thank you for sharing this experience. The main issue of course was to improve the quality per manufacturer, independently of each other. If, however, it now comes as a side-effect that all their improvements go a similar way, that is very much of an advantage for all stakeholders.

Quote:
In addition, the seamless and D40+ balls are also quite durable, which matters a lot to amateur players and smaller financially strapped clubs (and remember, ITTF represents all of us).

Yes, that is what we expected. These balls were demonstrated to us during their development, and the improvement in durability definitely met our requirements. So if players feel the same afterwards, that is a very much appreciated confirmation.

Quote:
In the very near future there will be no longer any reason for ITTF to approve most of the miserable cellulose acetate balls that we have lived with since 2014. Their performance has been terrible from the start and it seems likely that the problems can never be solved by using that particular material. They look eggs, they break like eggs, and they bounce inconsistently, and really, they have not been improved appreciably since their introduction. Regarding bounce, they may barely pass a static bounce test, but that goes out the window when you actually play with them.
Our plans and expectations with the 2014 plastic balls are a bit the same as for cell balls: There is no plan to withdraw an approval, but very likely a) no new applications will come in and b) the balls on the market will simply run out of stock and will be replaced by the newer ones.


Quote:
In addition, the ITTF ought to consider some regulation about outer surface texture. In particular the G40+ ball from Butterfly behaves terribly because its outer surface is so smooth. That makes the G40+ also an outlier compared to the decent 40+ balls.
This will be covered by the friction regulations that we are currently working on. At the moment, we are in the phase of collecting a pretty big amount data about the typical ball-table interaction parameters, and this of course relates to the balls' surface texture.

Quote:
So if ITTF is really interested in making the balls more uniform, and I applaud that, those are steps that could be taken fairly soon. Most of the 40+ cellulose acetates marketed now are re-brands from the factories that produce balls for Double Happiness and Double Fish, so there shouldn't be a serious problem with those same companies re-branding the ABS balls instead of the cellulose acetate balls.
Yes, I agree. As said above, it will probably not be regulated by ITTF, but it is likely to happen exactly like this. When you look at the list of approved balls, it has already started (you will see several approvals with 2016 code as a "twin" to a 2014 code).

Quote:
I have tried almost every 40+ ball on the market -- certainly I have had extensive experience now with each of the main classes -- and began using them exclusively as soon as they were available to buy on line. I have weighed them with laboratory balances, monitored their roundness and veer and have given them to professional players to try out. I now have extensive experience on what makes them break, how long they last on average, and how the ball surface holds up over time. It is not based on small sample sizes at this point. So I hope you won't immediately dismiss my suggestion.
Arising from this amount of data, I consider your judgement even more valid, and as it confirms my personal view on the development, I am happy to hear your judgement.

It looks like the uncertainties of the transition period from cell to plastic are slowly coming to an end. It would be arrogant to say that this was clear from the beginning. But it is at least how I expected the story to go. In my personal opinion, when you try to replicate a product with dozens of years of maturity (cell ball) by something completely new, you could not have avoided such a "try and error" phase, regardless of the timing. I know and accept that there are different opinions on this. But if all runs well in the end, that discussion will -hopefully- go to the archieves.


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PostPosted: 26 Mar 2017, 09:42 
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Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough response.

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PostPosted: 26 Mar 2017, 09:59 
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Torsten wrote:
It looks like the uncertainties of the transition period from cell to plastic are slowly coming to an end. It would be arrogant to say that this was clear from the beginning. But it is at least how I expected the story to go. In my personal opinion, when you try to replicate a product with dozens of years of maturity (cell ball) by something completely new, you could not have avoided such a "try and error" phase, regardless of the timing. I know and accept that there are different opinions on this. But if all runs well in the end, that discussion will -hopefully- go to the archieves.


The world would be a boring place if we all agreed ;)

Thanks for answering all the questions you've been asked Torsten. I hope Mr Weikert recognises the hard work you've / you are putting in to getting this right for all concerned.

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PostPosted: 26 Mar 2017, 19:20 
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Torsten, when are we going to get orange balls again?

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PostPosted: 27 Mar 2017, 01:32 
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mynamenotbob wrote:
Torsten, when are we going to get orange balls again?

The good news is that in the meantime we do have confirmations in writing by manufacturers that they are about to produce the orange balls. The probably even better news is that we did not need to push somebody for this info, but it was given voluntarily. So, orange seems to be taken serious.

The bad news is that I still cannot tell you about the timing. With ABS and, possibly, similar improved approaches coming up, I bet it is not a problem for any applicant to pass ITTF approval tests with their orange balls. But the business strategy is completely with the manufacturers. If you asked me for a date, my personal feeling for the "worst case" would be early 2018.


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