Tennis is a tremendously popular sport and pastime around the globe, but it can also have a significant impact on the environment. Over 300 million tennis balls are manufactured every year, and the vast majority of those end up in landfills. This leads to a substantial environmental impact, as tennis balls take approximately 400 years to decompose due to the non-biodegradable rubber and plastic they’re made of. This waste also releases harmful gasses like methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
But, there’s good news! CPM is proud to be part of a sustainable and impactful solution that transforms old tennis balls into something useful for our communities, keeping tennis balls out of landfills and providing an important product for the future. In this edition of Solutions Spotlight, we’re thrilled to showcase this innovative solution.
Recently, we spoke with Donovan Mills, Director of Engineering, Industrial Solutions, CPM, about his essential role in bringing this sustainable solution to life. It’s exciting to see how our technology can be used to create positive change and have a significant impact on the environment.
CPM Bliss Hammers: Revolutionizing the Grinding Process
Bliss, a CPM product brand, offers high-quality hammermills and peripheral equipment for the biomass, pet food, animal feed and specialty industries.
One day, a customer approached CPM with an interesting proposal. The customer wanted to use old tennis balls to create playground bedding, which is traditionally made from materials like wood chips, sand, and rubber mulch. Playground bedding is costly to produce and maintain, and can raise environmental concerns. However, used tennis balls offer a more affordable and eco-friendly solution, as they are readily available, non-toxic, and provide excellent shock absorption. Surfaces made of used tennis balls have also been proven to reduce the risk of injuries from falls.
The customer sent CPM several thousand tennis balls, with specific requirements: they had to be processed down to 3/4” or smaller pieces, and the pieces couldn’t have any strings or fabric attached from the outside of the tennis ball.
The CPM engineers knew they had the right tool for the job: Bliss hammers. Bliss hammers are designed to revolutionize the grinding process, boosting productivity and profits by maximizing efficiency.
The Challenge: Separating Rubber from Fabric
While the Bliss hammers had no problem processing the tennis balls, this project came with a unique challenge. The material on the exterior of the balls posed a significant obstacle, as it proved difficult to separate or cut with regular hammers.
CPM’s engineering team tackled that challenge from several angles. They tried screens that could separate the rubber from the fabric, different configurations of hammers, and several other techniques. Despite these attempted solutions, the rubber chunks remained intertwined with the fabric covering, posing potential hazards in a playground environment.
The team knew they had to devise a solution. But, after several tries, they still hadn’t found one.
A Hunting Trip Sparks Innovation
After several failed attempts, the CPM engineers weren’t sure how they’d solve this problem. Perhaps it wasn’t possible to break down tennis balls into fabric-free playground material with a hammermill.
Just when they were about to give up, a couple of CPM employees were deer hunting and had a breakthrough. As one of them was skinning the deer, he noticed the way his hooked knife interacted with the skin of the deer and had an idea. “What if we added a hook to our hammers to slice the tennis balls in a way that separates the fuzz from the rubber?” Excited about the possibility of a solution, they returned to the office on Monday and shared the idea with their colleagues.
The team decided to give it a try and made the necessary modifications to the hammers. To their delight, the hooks worked perfectly, slicing through the tennis balls in a way that was fast, efficient, and consistent. After some more internal testing, it was clear that this was the solution to creating fuzz-free rubber from used tennis balls.
The customer was thrilled with the new specialty hammers and immediately bought the Bliss customized hammers with hooks to upfit to their used hammermill. Since then, the customer has been happily recycling used tennis balls into playground bedding using Bliss hammers and CPM’s innovative solution.
In the end, the tale of how CPM conquered the hurdle of transforming used tennis balls into playground bedding emphasizes the value of determination, ingenuity, and teamwork. With a clever idea sparked on a hunting trip, the CPM engineers devised a solution that not only separated the rubber from the fabric with exceptional efficiency, but also delivered rubber to the customer’s exact specification.
Be Innovative: this is one of CPM’s core values and this story underscores the type of problem-solving that CPM is dedicated to providing for our clients and the sustainability solutions we provide every day in our mission to feed, fuel, and build a better world.
If you have a manufacturing challenge that we can assist with, we urge you to connect with our customer service team. We look forward to helping you reach your manufacturing and sustainability goals.