Accelerating Iteration, Redefining What’s Possible, and Challenging Industry Leaders
Known as the “fastest game on two feet”, lacrosse is a game that rewards teams with the speed and agility to control the ball. In the spirit of the game, StringKing wanted to aggressively expand into markets long dominated by heavyweights, like STX and Warrior/Brine. It was on a mission to develop the best lacrosse sticks and heads on the market.
StringKing needed a solution that could accelerate the iterative design process and enable faster design decisions, so it could bring better products to market faster. As a result, the company invested in three MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D Printers. Its development team could quickly and cost-effectively iterate on designs for multiple products at once. Whereas lacrosse manufacturers typically release a few heads in a year at most, StringKing is setting a new precedent by releasing a family of six in this timespan. Since releasing its first head, StringKing has gained market share and steadily redefined what’s possible in the industry.
StringKing’s early beginnings are key to understanding its later success with MakerBot. Founded in 2011, the company spent its first two years innovating on the mesh netting that makes up the pocket on a lacrosse stick. Its first successful product was Performance Mesh. “We gained a lot of trust and support from players and customers because we came out with a really great product that all the other companies overlooked,” according to Mark Flibotte, StringKing’s Marketing Director.
During the design process, the product development team exhaustively tested and compiled research on how to string pockets with mesh for the best lacrosse heads. To note, there are a variety of components on the stick that can affect a player’s ability to shoot, pass, or catch. Of those, the mesh is one of the most important; it directly affects how the ball enters and leaves the pocket.
With this database of research, StringKing could set out to develop a better head in 2014 for a release later in 2015. As Flibotte says, “We wanted to design a head and co-engineer that design with everything we’ve learned from two years of pocket research,” having noticed that some of the best heads on the market have characteristics that make great pockets.
To develop its first head, the Mark 1, StringKing hired an outside 3D printing service to prototype designs. Each 3D printed prototype took a week to receive and would cost approximately $450 dollars. “It really limited the amount of fine tuning we could do on the head,” says Flibotte.
After capturing approximately 3 to 4% market share with the Mark 1 Head, StringKing set out to scale up. They wanted to release the Mark 2V, Mark 2A, Mark 2T, Mark 2F, Mark 2D, and Mark Jr. in 2016/2017. Before starting the design process, the product development team surveyed the best heads on the market to pinpoint their best traits and took into account their past research on pockets.
Since MakerBot’s 3D printing solutions helped them accelerate iteration, the team could spend more time testing more ideas.
MakerBot “allows us to explore the unexplored realms of how a head can make a pocket drastically better,” says Smith. For example, when designing a head, they typically experiment with the side profile, face shape, scoop angle, and hole placement or spacing. With seven to eight iterations per feature, each head can entail approximately 30 different iterations. Once the team is happy with its approach for each feature, they have to ensure that all of these work together within one design for a given head. This last step could require some design tweaks and final prints.
After realizing the limitations of this workflow, StringKing’s product development team set out to find a new solution for its next heads. Their research led them to purchase the MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D Printer with its large build volume. The transition entailed a slight learning curve, but MakerBot Support – with agents based in the USA – was there to ensure that StringKing got the results it was after. As Kit
Smith, Partner at StringKing says, “Someone was always only a phone call away, ready to help on the other end of the line with patience, cheerfulness, and a well-organized plan of attack.”
Choosing MakerBot versus an outsource 3D printing service soon paid off: “We were amazed at how much faster and how much more fine-tuning we could do on our design,” says Flibotte. Eventually, StringKing scaled up to three Z18 3D printers and added the Smart Extruder+ for each. With MakerBot’s 3D printers, software, filament, and MakerCare Plan, the product development team could create realistic models, test new designs for multiple products at once, and quickly accelerate iteration.
Before and during the 2017 Spring season, StringKing will offer a family of six heads. Each is tailored to a certain style of play or position. The Mark 2V is tailored for midfield play, the Mark 2A for attacking, the Mark 2F for faceoffs, the Mark 2T for transitional play, and the Mark 2D for defense. The Mark JR is designed for younger players.
“After we got the three MakerBots we were able to do three prints per twenty-four hours. With the MakerBots we are now going to launch six awesome heads in a 1-year span. In order to do this we will have to print about 200 heads. This would have cost about $90,000 if we outsourced our printing and would have been so slow that I don’t think we would be able to launch six heads in 1 year. Launching six heads in one year is more than any lacrosse company has ever done before. We have done this without increasing any of our internal resources except for adding the 3 MakerBots”, says Jake McCampbell, CEO and Co-founder.
Through in-depth research, lacrosse expertise, and MakerBot’s 3D printing solutions, StringKing is directly competing against the major brands. It’s also setting a new precedent in product development for quality, speed, and quantity. As Smith anticipates, StringKing’s new heads are “going to allow players in the sport of lacrosse to do things that they’ve never been able to do before.”
Established in 2011, StringKing is a Los-Angeles based company that fuses research, tech, and on-the-field expertise to release innovative lacrosse products. With products released to wide acclaim from professionals and amateurs alike, it is poised to capitalize on the sport’s rising popularity across the United States, especially the west.
Its first major product, Performance Mesh, was developed to be the most consistent, highest performing mesh ever. It has since expanded its product lines and gone on to become an official mesh, head, and handle supplier for both Major League Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League during the 2015-2016 seasons.
By redefining what players can expect from lacrosse equipment, StringKing will ultimately change the game.