Matthew Vacek received a composite materials engineering degree from Winona State University in 1995. He has worked with composites in the sporting goods industry since 1995. He began working for Miken, a composites sporting goods manufacturer and subsidiary of Jarden Corporation, in 1999.
What’s your company’s history with composites?
In 1998, Miken began dabbling in different sporting goods, really focusing on bats at the end of 1999. At that time, there were no composites bats on the market. Everyone was using aluminum and titanium bats. That is, until 2001-2002 when we introduced an all-composites bat, which really changed the market by pushing composites into the forefront. Ninety-eight percent of our products are made from composites. We’ve since diversified into fast pitch baseball and other sports like golf and hockey, but our focus is still soft pitch softball.
Why focus on bats?
In the beginning, the owner wanted to focus on one product. We had to pick something. We’d heard a lot of complaints about aluminum bats denting and decided to start there, especially since softball is such a popular sport in Minnesota, where we’re based.
What does the sporting goods market look like going forward?
I’m always impressed by the composite technology in bike and tennis equipment, how much labor manufacturers put into single parts to get them to do what they’re doing. I see some of that same focus being applied to bats and hockey sticks now. Manufacturers are using aerospace composites technology, and it will keep evolving. Products will continue to get lighter, stronger and more innovative. Of course, these products cost more money. For example, our products range from $250 and up, but there is a market for that. People are willing to pay for technology that gets them the performance they want, whether that’s in a rink, lane or field.
What big opportunities are there in sporting goods for composites?
I don’t see an end to materials and processes R&D. Aerospace-grade composites are not going anywhere. I can see the market growing into nano composites or something else. It will keep progressing. As far as particular products, if there’s something that isn’t using composites right now, I think there’s something composites could do to improve it. Of course, that’s within reason. The Major League Baseball bats have to be wood because it’s the rules. Cricket bats also have to be made of a certain wood. Will those regulations ever change? Who knows?