Main Content

Back to Blog List

  • 22 June 2015
  • Tracy Spahr

3D Printing: A Fast Approach to a Training Tool for Athletes

Meet Jody Summerlin, a softball enthusiast who loves the sport so much he created EZ Rise Ball, a ball to train players to improve their throws. Jody used 3D printing to turn his invention into a product athletes can purchase.

What is rise ball pitching?
Rise ball is a pitch technique used in fast pitch softball. Rise ball pitches give the batter the impression that the ball rises, though in reality it simply falls slower than a fastball.

Utilizing 3D printing helped me evolve an idea to something I could hold.

Please tell me about your invention I am a huge fan of softball and the rise ball pitching technique. I was active in a fast pitch league for many years and when the sport became mostly focused on female players I wanted to stay in touch with the game so I developed a ball to train athletes.

My invention, EZ Rise Ball, is a two-colored ball with wings on it. You place your fingers between the wings to learn to grip and throw. When the ball is spinning and the colors align and look solid during the throw, the throw is correct. I practiced this pitching technique for over two decades, I truly believe that a person can learn to throw a rise ball pitch within a few weeks by using the product.

I created EZ Rise Ball as a tool that softball players who don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on a trainer can use to teach themselves. I really see this as a great product for a father and daughter or son to use to help improve their pitch in the game.

How did 3D printing help your invention become a marketable product?
I have had the idea in my head for 18 years; it was within the past three years that I really brought the idea to life. I went to numerous service bureaus for assistance with my idea and was rejected because I was a sole entrepreneur and not a big business. I purchased a 3D printer but unfortunately the printer I purchased was not capable of printing the prototype of the ball. I saw that The UPS Store near my home offered 3D print services and offered the Stratasys U Print SE Plus, a more advanced printer than the one I had. I created a 3D print file on my own and was able to have The UPS Store print my first version. I started with a small version to see if the prototype matched my vision and within about four attempts I was able to create a prototype I could share with a manufacturer to mass produce.

What was the next step after you had your prototype?
Once I had the EZ Rise Ball prototype complete I started calling manufacturers and getting quotes on producing it. I worked with a company to create a product mold to produce the ball in mass quantity and decided what material the ball would be made of. I am happy to say that the product will be available in mid-July and sold online.

How did you hear about 3D print services at The UPS Store and what are the advantages?
I am a current customer of The UPS Store in Montgomery, Alabama and noticed the 3D printer during one of my visits and decided to try it out. The UPS Store was very accessible to me and was able to save me time. The franchisee and graphic designer at the store were very helpful in getting my file compatible with their machine and making adjustments that enabled me to bring my product to life.

Is this the first of many inventions for you?
I plan to keep going. Just like the game of golf, there are multiple clubs for multiple purposes, you have you have a driver, putter and wedge; you need multiple tools to learn how to be great. Softball is the same concept, players can pitch a ball numerous ways for success, the ball can go up and down, or side-to-side or be a rise ball. I have already started to think of techniques I will approach for my next product.

Any advice you would give someone in the prototyping phase of their inventions?
If you can draw it, you can bring it to life. Utilizing 3D printing helped me evolve an idea to something I could hold. Once I was able to see it and grasp it, I was able to adjust the prototype until it met my vision. The tools for inventors are more available today than ever before, you just have to keep trying until you reach your perfect prototype.

Back to Blog List