Playing volleyball is a lot of fun but how is the ball made? Volleyballs consist of different layers. The first layer is a rubber bladder that holds the air. The second layer is nylon. This keeps the ball in shape and makes sure that the bladder is protected. The third layer is a rubber layer. This is reducing the impact of the ball. The final layer is foam or (synthetic leather).
Cheaper balls often use foams and glue these together. More expensive balls use leather and stitch this together. Leather can feel greater than foam but this comes down to personal preferences. Foams have evolved a lot during the past few years and the quality has increased a lot.
Below is the construction of the MVA200 by Mikasa. This ball is used during the Olympics so it is one of the best balls that you can get. Cheaper models might use lower-quality materials. This makes them break faster or the outer layer can start to tear after a while.
Outdoor volleyballs use thicker materials to withstand the cold and heat and are therefore often more expensive. Beach volleyballs even have to deal with fine particles such as sand and dust. These balls need to be constructed very well so that no sand can get in them.
The production steps depend on how professional the factory is and how expensive the volleyball is. Smaller-scale production for cheaper volleyballs works as follows. Note that the video is in Indian so you will have to read below what the steps are.
Step 1: Glue the nylon and foam together
Multiple materials are combined by gluing them together. This takes a lot of precision and it is necessary to let it dry for a while afterward. Big sheets of both materials are glued together. In bigger factories, machines do this as the materials are being pulled over each other. In smaller factories, this is done by hand. It is important that no air can get between the materials as this can lead to bubbles in the final product.
Step 2: Print the pattern on the outside foam.
Volleyballs often look very colorful. This is done by printing a pattern on a piece of foam. Afterward, this is cleaned so that the ink doesn’t smudge all over the ball. Each brand and model has its own unique design. This can make their volleyballs stand out from the rest. For an outdoor volleyball, it is also interesting to use colorful balls as this makes it easier to see where the ball is as there are a lot of other objects nearby. A ball has to stand out and bright colors can help with this.
Step 3: Cutting the pieces.
Each piece of foam is cut out using a cutting machine. This is quite repetitive work as each piece has the same shape. Larger factories have big machines to do this so this can happen very fast.
Step 4: Stitch the pieces of foam together.
These pieces will be stitched together This makes it easy to finish the ball as you just bring several pieces together. This needs to happen very precisely and is an art on its own. In some instances, heat and glue are used to automate this process.
Step 5: Insert the rubber bladder
After the pieces of foam have been stitched together, the rubber bladder is inserted through a hole that hasn’t been closed. The ball is turned inside out. We already see the shape of the volleyball now. The inside bladder is deflated at this point so it is quite easy to do this.
These rubber bladders are created through heat. The hot rubber is inserted in a mold and this creates the required shape. Afterward, the air is taken out of the bladder to make it easy to insert it into the foam ball.
Step 6: Closing the ball
The final step is to stitch the remaining hole. In small factories, this is done by hand. Bigger factories use glue and heat to automate this step in the process. It is important that the valve of the bladder is in the correct position so that the ball can be inflated. The valve is often a part that breaks and they spend a lot of time making sure that it is in the correct position.
Step 7: Testing the ball
At this point, the ball is fully assembled and air is introduced in the bladder to see if the ball holds the air or not. Once the ball is approved, it gets cleaned again and checked to make sure that the quality is satisfactory.
Step 8: Deflating the ball
To save on shipping costs, volleyballs are often deflated after they have been tested. This reduces the volume and makes it easier to ship. Some stores inflate the ball when it arrives there. In some instances, you have to do this yourself by using a pump.
These balls are often made in India or China as they have the machines and materials to do so. They are then shipped by boat, train or airplane to shops over the world.
As you can see in the video below, volleyballs are actually quite strong. They have to deal with a lot of pressure so it is necessary to combine multiple materials to be able to do this. Stitched volleyballs can be stronger than foams ones but the glues that are being used for foam volleyballs have improved a lot during the past few years.
To conclude, we can state that making a volleyball requires several steps. Cheaper volleyballs have fewer layers and are therefore easier to make. These are often made by hand by using glue and stitches. More advanced volleyballs use multiple layers and machines are used to heat up the material and glue it together. It is often worth it to spend a little more money so that you get a better quality volleyball. This ball will last longer and it will be more fun to play with.