With the widespread adoption of composite ice hockey sticks over the past decade, the frequent breakage of these sticks is all too common. Not only do these breaks drastically change the game at the professional level, they also lead to exorbitant costs for players. Reliable and durable hockey sticks can have a large impact on the game itself, on professional and recreational players, and of course on the wallets of parents whose children aim to be hockey stars one day!
Hockey Robotics is a company that has pioneered the concept of robotic testing for the hockey industry. It specializes in hockey stick design, performance, and durability testing using an advanced hockey stick testing robot. Hockey sticks most often break during a slap shot; therefore the company’s goal was to produce a robot capable of properly mimicking the professional hockey slap shot. The Hockey Robotics team, with support from industry partnerships, manufactured the SlapShot XT, a dynamic hockey stick robot capable of delivering a slap shot at speeds up to 110 mph. Hockey stick manufacturers are now using the robot to test their designs in a highly repeatable and controlled manner, providing evaluation data never before available.
The SlapShot XT is the first ever robot capable of executing a slap shot like a professional hockey player. The robot’s integrated advanced electronics and software allows the gathering of data never seen before, enabling even more detailed analysis of the results to support further refinements in hockey stick design. The SlapShot XT is bringing about revolutionary changes in the way hockey sticks are developed.
In hockey sticks, breaking may occur when the stick is subject to very large three-point bending loads during a slap shot. The first step in creating the robot was to fully understand the motion of the hockey stick during a slapshot using advanced motion tracking techniques, and then create a virtual model of the robot to reproduce that motion. During slap shots by highly proficient hockey players, the trajectory of the stick was tracked at important locations using high-speed cameras. By analyzing this data, the SlapShot XT robot was designed and developed to accurately re-create the loading to which a stick is subjected during a slapshot. The SlapShot XT is capable of shooting a puck at over 100 mph with either a left- or right-handed stick.
MapleSim played a critical role in the design and development of the SlapShot XT. MapleSim is a physical modeling and simulation tool from Maplesoft built on a foundation of symbolic computation technology. It efficiently handles all of the complex mathematics involved in the development of engineering models, including multi-domain systems, plant modeling, and control design. MapleSim allowed Hockey Robotics to efficiently and accurately simulate the coupled dynamic electrical and mechanical behavior of the equipment. MapleSim enabled the concurrent study of the flexible body deformation and rigid body motion of the machines, which is a very difficult, time-consuming, and error-prone task when done by hand. It also allowed them to quickly prototype the designs and investigate the coupled motion of the mechanisms very easily.
A four-bar mechanism was synthesized to match the hockey player’s motion, and subsequent dynamic and stress analyses were used to develop and confirm the performance of the resulting robot design. A flywheel maintained the stick’s momentum during contact with the ice, and the robotic hands allowed the stick to bend about two axes, storing and releasing strain energy throughout the shot. The final design was evaluated using NX 6 from Siemens PLM Software and finite element models of the components.
The result was definitive: The robot provides repeatable, unbiased test data on the performance and durability of hockey sticks, a first in the industry.
“MapleSim is the engine driving our development,” said Dr. John McPhee, Chief Scientist, at Hockey Robotics. “It has been crucial in our development and testing, resulting in tremendous savings in design and prototyping. In addition, MapleSim allows us to perform engineering analysis that was previously too challenging and computationally intensive for our industry to undertake.”
Future projects at Hockey Robotics involve using MapleSim to develop a rapid prototyping tool that they believe has the potential to permanently change the way that hockey sticks are designed and evaluated. They expect that their new solution will provide much shorter development cycles and substantial reductions in development costs for hockey equipment manufacturers.