As ultimate players, when we sat down to figure out how we wanted to make our ARIA Ultimate disc, a big part of our planning process included identifying what the final material would be. Plastics are amazing, but they are also very complicated. There are thousands and thousands of varieties of different plastic raw materials, all of which have very individualized properties. On top of that, when you decide which ones you are going to mix together, they interact in unique ways such at the final product can be very different even with a slight change in recipe.
There are several elements of a disc that interact directly with our chosen material. Firstly, I'd invite you to consider the malleability of a disc. At a fixed temperature, consider the times when a disc bends. Even though it happens in the blink of an eye, when you catch a disc from a strong throw from a teammate it actually deforms for a quick instant in your hand before returning to its original shape. As these images illustrate, the faster the throw and the larger the change in momentum between the disc and the catching hands, the more the disc deforms before recoiling.
For the design of the ARIA disc, we decided to settle on an average malleability at an average temperature that allows for a comfortable catch. We would not, however, compromise to a level of flexibility that doesn't let you control the disc when you then go to throw it to the next receiver. A secondary consideration when designing the malleability of the plastic we use in the ARIA Ultimate disc is that of its temperature range threshold.
Many of us have played a game of ultimate in extremely cold temperatures and even in the snow. Most plastics will naturally become firmer when they are exposed to cold temperatures. On the other hand, if you haven't experienced it, you can imagine a disc becoming extremely hot after sitting out on a dry turf field in the sun in the middle of the afternoon. In situations like this, plastics tend to take on a lot of the heat radiation from the sun, and in many cases become extremely floppy or bendy. When designing the ARIA disc, we took both of these scenarios into account and were able to settle in on a mix of plastic materials that allows for a slightly less knuckle-breaking stiff disc in the cold, and a slightly less floppy disc in the extreme heat. We do not expect this to drastically change the game for most people in most scenarios, but it's intentional design decisions like this that we think are important to bring to our sport.
Secondly, a major consideration when putting together plastic composites is durability. It should be noted, however, that durability is not a stand-alone attribute. When you start to tinker with different levels of what we might consider durable or less durable plastics, you also have an effect on the tactile feel of the disc, as well as its malleability in hand and in flight. Our ultimate decision was to settle on a durability level that maximizes the amount of time a disc can live in an optimum playing condition. All discs will become scuffed and scratched in most playing scenarios, more so on concrete or in urban environments than on turf or nice grass fields. Even catching a disc can leave a fingernail dent in the plastic. Rather than trying to make something that never dented at the expense of comfort in the hand and dependability in the air, we decided to settle at a place we think is just right for all players in most playing scenarios across the boards.
And last but not least, the simplest and most visible element of plastics is color. We knew we wanted to make a white disc, but it is quite astonishing how many different variations of the color white there are! We settled on a color that we think is the right balance between soft, clean, crisp white, but not too electric. We also wanted to make sure the disc is able to maintain the same hue and clean white color over time. Each of these specific decisions is not just a single dial you turn and settle on in your first try. There are a lot of different material concoctions that have effects on the color of a disc.
There are many other discs out there that are produced in colors other than white, either through dyes or alternative raw materials. From the beginning, ARIA Ultimate is choosing to stick with just a plain and simple white disc because we want to make sure we nail the most basic elements of a single product before we expand into other colors. It should also be noted that different colors of plastics will react differently with ultraviolet light and sunlight. Some colors take on more heat which can affect the temperature and flight path of a disc, while others can be more finicky in weight discrepancies, depending on the dyes used to color them.
At the end of the day it's not rocket science. But at the same time it is. Some of the design issues we are tackling are complex materials science topics that may typically only appear on the desks of aerodynamics postdocs. Luckily, we have had some of these on call for our process in designing the ARIA Ultimate disc!
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of this with us, we are happy to hop on a call with you for a chat. Short of divulging our trade secrets, our intention is to educate ultimate players around the world not just about our process, but also about why we have chosen to do things the way we have. See you on the field!
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