More than 5 years of “Tenergy” – let’s have a detailed look at the revolutional rubber that changed table tennis. What makes it so special? How was it developed?
„Not without my Tenergy“
On April 21, 2008, a completely new family of rubbers was introduced: TENERGY. It revolutionized offensive table tennis and was immediately adopted by a wide range of professional as well as amateur players. Tenergy was released after 20 years of development.
The original task was to keep up the pace and speed of table tennis after the ban of speed gluing – to enable professional players to retain the power of their own game. To the amazement of the Butterfly research & development team, TENERGY went on to becoming one of the most played and enjoyed rubber ever.
Professionals and amateurs alike felt drawn to the quality and characteristics of Tenergy. It enabled them to play shots usually reserved to top players: To counter heavy topspins with topspin, play spinny backhand shots over the table and return serves with the chiqita flick – things we start seeing on all levels of play these
days. This may very well be an important factor in the popularity of Tenergy.
The usage of this rubber at the World Championships 2012 in Dortmund, Germany demonstrate just how popular Tenergy is; 53% out of 799 players were using at least one Tenergy rubber on their racket – the figure repeated at the WTTTC 2014 in Tokyo.
But first things first..
Speed gluing – how it all started.
The whole Tenergy story started back in the 80’s with researchers looking for impulses to increase the ball bounce. Even back then the demand for more speed and more spin was palpable.
The discovery of speed gluing by Tibor Klampar in the 70’s even accelerated this development in professional table tennis, summiting in Klampar’s, Gergely’s and Jonyer’s success at the World Championships 1979. After that, speed gluing suddenly became “a thing” for all levels of players – spreading widely throughout the 1980’s.
Only a few years later, the ITTF announced the global ban on speed gluing. The original announcement in 1994 was postponed, but Butterfly immediately started to research products that would emulate and later even enhance the characteristics of a glued rubber. This enduring research would later pay off.
3 unique technologies – 4 main characteristics
The main quest for years was to produce Speed and spin on a rubber without the help of special glue 3 ground-breaking technologies were invented along the way – all of them are under constant improvement up to this day.
- High Tension
- Spring Sponge
- the unique pimples-structure
- High grip
- pronounced curve of the Ball
Hitoshi YAMAZAKI, from the Research&Development team working on Tenergy, remembers:
„At first we analysed the chemical process responsible for adding speed and spin on a rubber during speed gluing. This was relatively straightforward: Gluing applies tension on a rubber and provides it with more elasticity. Our problem was how to apply this principle on a non-glued rubber while ensuring that it remains durable and does not tear. Usually, the more tension a rubber has, the easier it breaks – it tends to lose quality.“
This proved to be a challenge for the Butterfly team – until after some 7 years later the answer was found: HIGH TENSION technology.
With this innovation it was suddenly possible to increase the tension on a rubbers’ surface and the sponge, allowing it to reflect the energy of an incoming ball and use it outwardly. Tightening the surface creates additional impulse – much like on a trampolin, where higher tension provides a higher bounce – quite literally. Although in a rubber the tension is not created mechanically, but rather on a chemical level.
As a result the so-called “HIGH TENSION” rubbers had a much higher tension compared to standard rubbers in the industry – without losing any quality or durability.
In 1997, BRYCE was introduced, the first high tension rubber, that Werner Schlager (AUT) was famously using when he won the World Championships 2003 in Paris.
2007, BRYCE SPEED followed with twice the tension of the original Bryce. The rubber became the first choice on the forehand for many professional players, such as Michael Maze (DEN). He himself became European Champion using Bryce Speed in 2009 – facing Werner Schlager in the Finals.
“But compared to the first High Tension rubbers, in the TENERGY series, we were able to increase the tension by 300%” Yamazaki explains. “We were especially proud that test players from our advisory staff reported they could use the rubbers for a longer duration without feeling loss of its grip or losing quality.”
An important factor in the development of Tenergy was the discovery of the Spring Sponge technology. Finding it was complicated. Research took around 10 years and considerable investments with trial and error before the special material could be mass-produced. The key was focusing on the structure of the sponge – when former researched looked more onto the surface of the rubber.
The principle of the matter is: The longer the ball stays in contact with the rubber, the higher the grip. In detail: the deeper a ball can dig into the rubber, the longer it stays in contact with the racket. So it seems that the solution would be a most soft sponge. The problem is: a soft sponge also absorbs the energy of an incoming ball, slowing the bounce of a rubber. So the goal had to be in finding a softer rubber that can somehow impart energy onto a ball instead of absorbing it. To find a practical solution, researchers had to look in a different place. Asking:
„What could increase the performance of a sponge, besides thickness or strength?“
The answer – in short – was consistency. A certain sample of a sponge produced massive bounce, but was neither soft nor very thick. How could that be? Yuichi Thsuchiya of the development team explains:
“Rubbers with classic sponges absorb the energy of the ball – much like a mat without feathers. The ball only gets the amount of rebound that players apply with the stroke. But this sample proved to be very different in that regard: Bigger cells of air made the sponge highly elastic. When a ball touches the rubber, it digs into the sponge. This special sponge contracted and expanded under the pressure – like a spring – propelling the ball outward with additional energy. The name stuck, the technology was later called SPRING SPONGE.”
The real challenge started when the sponge had to be mass-produced with exactly the same characteristics the samples posessed. In order to accomplish this Butterfly invested in completely new production machinery, just for the spring sponge production.
“In retrospect, investing in new production facilities was worth it.” Tsuchiya explains “because of continuing development as well as adjustments, we are now able to actively control the size of these cells within steps of 0.1 mm. There is still potential for optimization and we are constantly working on further improving the technology.”
Looking good? What about the pimples’ structure?
Even though the Spring Sponge had an amazing effect, finding the right rubber surface after the first developments proved to be more than difficult.
Why is that?
Because combinations of pimples’ height, diameter and distance that had worked in the past now yielded no satisfying effect on the Spring Sponge. Going against tradition is always tough, but here it seemed necessary.
After developing and then testing over a hundred different pimples’ structures, the team was surprised by a number of test samples, namely the ones named with production codes: 05, 64, 80 and 25. The unique structure of these samples provided the best results. Extensive testing by Butterfly staff as well as professional players of the Butterfly advisory staff gave mixed results to these samples – to the surprise of the development team. Top stars such as Timo Boll, Jun Mizutani, Werner Schlager and others did indeed prefer different test samples. Masamachi Kubo recalls:
“Speed gluing was still allowed at that time. Players had a difficult time to directly compare the samples to their competition equipment. Nonetheless, we were a little disappointed to see such mixed results – it was after all a large investment on our part! (Smiles). I am happy that this did not deter us from our course back then.”
Later on, players did not only recall their original feedback, but were even delighted to see that TENERGY rubbers remained on a high performance level for a longer time duration compared to other rubbers – in spite of the significantly increased tension.
„All About Tenergy – the movie“
The second and last part deals with the main questions of players:
Which are the characteristics of each Tenergy? How do they differ? Which Tenergy suits best to my play?
If you want the answers right away, spotted with high speed action of Timo Boll and Jun Mizutani with incredible graphics and slow motion effects – have a look at the amazing “All about Tenergy” video. Have fun watching!