Keep trying to make rubber which helps table tennis players to hit a ball that “jumps and turns well”

In charge of developing table tennis equipment
Naoya Higuchi(Mizuno)

‘Axis of development’ which was planned utilizing know-how of other sports

“Mizuno got into the business later considering rubber for table tennis.
We kept making efforts with a phrase ‘Catch up with and surpass’ performance which a product that boasted the highest share of the market had such as repulsion and rotation, and we felt that we finally caught up with it by ‘Q5’ in 2019”, Naoya Higuchi, who is in charge of planning and developing rubber for table tennis, says.
Mizuno started developing rubber in-house in 2015, and they had left both production and development of it in the charge of OEM until then.
“For about 2 years until we launched ‘Q3’, which was the first product developed in-house, in 2017, we had developed and made a system of mass production, and also had thoroughly evaluated rubber that has the largest share in the market at the same time.
We set the value, which had been discovered after the evaluation, as a target value and determined the direction”
Development of rubber requires knowledge and technology of chemistry, but rubber product evaluation needs a whole other knowledge and technology of mechanical engineering.
That is probably why few manufacturers work on evaluation of rubber products, Higuchi says.
However, since Mizuno is a diversified sports manufacturer, they could accurately evaluate products using know-how cultivated in other sports.
“We could decide ‘the axis of development’ by setting the target value.
There is a way to develop by having players try samples we make, hearing their opinions and revising repeatedly, but if we make a mistake in choosing an opinion to refer to, our axis might waver.
We try not to waver the axis of development by setting a goal using a numerical value this time.
Actually rubber which top players use is a commercial product, so amateur players can buy the same product in specialty shops, he says.
“Shapes of rubber are roughly divided into two types.
One is called ‘back soft’ whose hitting side is flat and smooth and back side is uneven. The other is ‘front soft’ whose hitting side is uneven and back side flat and smooth.
About more than 70% of top players in the world use back soft, and 70 to 80% of them use rubber which has the largest share in the market.
Our goal is to break this monopolistic situation”

Aim to become a company which leads the world of table tennis rubber

What factor do top players consider as important in choosing rubber?
“They choose by rotation and speed.
Players choose rubber which rebounds well and by which they can hit a ball that rotates well.
The higher the resiliency is, the faster a ball gets when a player hits, and when the ball is fast, it has to rotate many times. Otherwise, a ball won’t land in a court.
So, in short, if we can rotate a ball more, we can put a faster ball on a court.
Regarding rubber, resiliency and rotation are justice. Haha”
‘Q5’, which realized same resiliency and rotation as rubber that has the biggest share, is a turning point considering the milestone of a development strategy Higuchi planned.
“It was easy to develop up until now since a path we had to take was quite clear thanks to the bench mark of the numerical value, but from now on we have to create our own technology with a new idea and design.
Now the real competition begins”
Q series is getting recognized more, and now it is chosen by more players who have abilities to be ranked within top 64 at the All-Japan Table Tennis Championships.
Just one more effort, and world top players will take it in their hands.
“If you want top players to think ‘I’m gonna try this’, same quality as a competitor’s product is not good enough.
It won’t be chosen unless something about it is by far superior.
We are preparing that ‘something superior’ now”
The reason why Higuchi raised his hand to become in charge of developing table tennis rubber is due to what a Mizuno employee, who used to be a table tennis player, said: “For example in baseball or tennis, amateurs can’t tell if a bat or racket is expensive or cheap just by looking at batting, right? But in table tennis, expensive rubber or cheap rubber completely changes the course of a hit ball. You can immediately tell the difference of price.”
“Quality of rubber directly affects a ball.
It’s interesting that rubber changes the course and quality of a hit ball.
‘Q5’ has functions as good as rubber which has the biggest share, so I was confident in sending this product to the world.
I want to make it grow to be able to compare with the top product and I hope it’ll lead the world of rubber”

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