Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hanging in the Balance

The title is probably a little overwrought. Nor am I certain the subject merits the melodrama but it was the best I could come up with. (Even worse I just ended a sentence with a preposition. That's a grammar no-no but I say if ethics can be situational so can parts of speech. But I digress ...)
What has captured my attention, at least for today, is the condition of our balls. Paintballs, that is. One of the issues with the Small Ball Revolution is that they are, you know, really small. The downside of small being is generally inferior performance compared to the standard 68 cal paintball. Mostly 'cus it's lighter. It doesn't have the same range, there are concerns with flight & breaking characteristics. Old news. (But there's more.)
Do you remember when candy bars got smaller? It wasn't too many years ago. Some manufacturers repackaged their products and briefly offered them at slightly reduced prices. Others simply put smaller candy bars on the shelves for the same price as before. (Mars is about to do it again as part of a "healthy" candy bar initiative. Yeah, right.) The same began happening to all sorts of packaged products on grocery store shelves all across the country not long afterwards. In every case it was a cost savings effort. Paintball has seen the same thing happening for some time too.
A couple of weeks ago some sample cases of HydroTec waterballs were made available to the public and at least one enterprising baller made a video examining the HydroTec paintball primarily with respect to claims made by the manufacturer. Turns out the shells don't dimple and don't absorb water--a selection was left in a water bottle for a couple of days with no ill effects. He froze them, or tried. Cut them open. Shot them. Weighed them. Etc. Some of the paintballs showed a tendency to curve as they lost momentum at the edges of their range. And they were light. Compared to other 68 caliber paintballs. The maximum ASTM weight allowed is about 3.5 grams. Impact energy exceeds the "safe" limit at 300 fps if a paintball weighs more than 3.5 grams. But when it weighs less, depending on how much less, it also alters the flight characteristics and ultimate range. With the small ball that's relatively easy to see. Turns out among the HydroTec samples tested they varied in weight from around 2.6-2.9 grams. Well off the max standard and enough to make some difference. Remember the candy bars?
Have you noticed paint rolling out of your barrel lately? It seems the major paint manufacturers have been producing smaller--and lighter--paintballs for a while now. I'm not certain for how long but it's become ubiquitous in tourney grade paints. It seems that before the shrinking began the heaviest paintballs were usually around 3.3 grams. With some of the smaller ones currently being produced the numbers are falling to around the 3 gram mark and below. (I don't know if this is fairly universal or not.) So while some in the paintball geek community had questions about how much the HydroTec paintballs would weigh compared to "normal" paintballs and what if any differences that would make normal paintballs have been shrinking in both size and weight.
How far can the manufacturers take the rather less than amazing shrinking paintball before standards of performance aren't just diminished but completely compromised?
If nothing else it's just another reminder how reliant we all are on technology to play this game and how little we often know about what and where technology is going.

For those (six) of you waiting patiently for more Basic Tactics I'ma have a new one tomorrow and another for later in the week while I'm at the MAO. (fingers crossed) (MAO coverage will be an after-action report this time.)


Mark said...

I've been aware of the smaller BIG balls since around late 2010.

Not sure who started it, but it seemed to be universal by the time I noticed it. At times they were getting so small that some gun manufactures' regs couldn't go high enough to even approach 300fps. Since there really are no more closed-bolt guns on the market anymore (aside from the pump guys noticing, and who listens to them?), we were ripe for this downsizing.

I even specified when ordering paint once, whether they actually had any of the .68 caliber variety. I think enough people complained that the sizes went back up for a short period, but now seem to be back down again.

If it is a cost cutting endevor as it appears to be, it's funny that they could be negating the one short-comming HydroTec had. Other than that itty bitty technicality of being in the business of actually selling paintballs that is.

Anonymous said...

Balls have been getting smaller for ages, we had to start making our detents longer back in '05, and had to drop 2 sizes on stock tubes over the years.

Baca Loco said...

It has cycled to some degree, that is true. Some early versions of Hellfire were very tiny and that was close to when it was introduced.

Mark said...

I don't think paint has ever been this small and certainly not across the board manufacturer-wise. In fact I'd say between 04-09 it had been the most consistant with standard bore barrels. I had freaks, and small bore barrels collecting dust within that time frame, now KEE seems to be re-launching the SuperFreak going as small as .675 which is about how small I've seen it lately. The original Diablo (what became Hellfire) introduced at WC 1998 I shot out of a .684 boomstick and it was a snug fit.

Devon Stuart said...

Lately we have been practicing with the Kee "Special Blend" paint (mad dog variety) and it was shot well with a .671 bore. I don't see any paint manufactures going back anytime soon so we might as well just start investing in smaller bored barrels.

Anonymous said...

We'll have to get smaller and smaller barrel kits to keep up with the paint, and then when we've started to accept the smaller bore, the balls will get slightly smaller. Maybe we'll just slowly drift down to .50 cal and not even notice it.

Reiner Schafer said...

Maybe I'm just not a good businessman, but I'm not buying the whole shrinking of the balls to save a few bucks angle. The difference in raw materials between a .67 and a .69 inch paintball is less than .1%. All other cost associated with bringing the paintballs to market are going to be the same. I don’t think even shipping would be affected with such small change in volume/weight. That would probably mean (I’m guessing hear because I don’t honestly know the percentage of cost attributed to raw materials) about a .025% savings in costs overall. Now I realize that a .1% decrease in raw materials will probably add up to a few thousand dollars for the large manufacturers over the course of the year, but...all it would take is one “News Up” on PBNation by one company telling all the fanboys how the extra weight in their “larger” paintballs would give players an advantage on the field, that sales would shift enough to negate the .025% savings in cost for those losing those sales. If I were in the paintball manufacturing business, that’s the route I would be taking.

Anonymous said...

With a 1% change in size ... Every 100 balls would net you another full paintball.... Every 100 cases would net a free case of paint ... Imagine how many free cases an eight hour production day would net at oh let's say 42 a case wholesale ? I'd say it's worth it all day every day ...

Nick Brockdorff said...

Irrespective of the financial implications, I actually like it, that paint is no longer - ever - above 0.680

It IS called 68 Cal afterall.... so the notion that it is ever bigger, is silly to me.

I remember when paint was a very snug fit in a 0.691 barrel, and that is just not right.

0.680 should be the industry maximum - or we should all start playing 69 Cal.

Just saying ;)

Nick Brockdorff said...

Oh, and Reiner.... if you could increase your bottom line by 1 %, without losing anything - would you do it? ;)

It's like the good old Colgate story.

Reiner Schafer said...

Its a saving in raw materials of less than .1% (and that's calculated going all the way from .69 to .67 which probably no one has done), not 1%. More than likely, the average company is saving more like .05% in raw materials.... and raw materials only. All other expenses are staying the same. It's a miniscule amount.
Would I do it to save the few thousand dollars if I were the head of a big paint manufacturer. Sure, if all else stays the same.

I'm just saying, if I were in the paintball manufacturing business, I would not bother with the miniscule savings, but would rather market my "Big Balls" ( at .685 to .69") that give a competitive advantage (especially being on the heels of the .50 cal fiasco) and pick up a .5% or 1% (or maybe much more) increase in my sales. That would be much more beneficial to my bottom line. I might even be able to increase my prices by another .5 to 1% with all the hoopla the fanboys would create.

Anonymous said...

The difference between .68 and .67 is 1.4 % of the total circumference ... That is to say ... 1.4% less material is needed to fill a .67 caliber ball than a .68 Not .1% . I think profit motivates the smaller ball size

Reiner Schafer said...

Haha. I did screw up my math, but not as badly as you are suggesting. I used "volume", not "circumference", which I believe would be much more appropriate. The difference in volume between a balls with diameters of .69 and .67 is approx. .9% I missed a digit in my original calculation and thought it was only .09%. Nevertheless, I would still be taking the "Big Balls are Better" marketing approach.